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The Emotional Impact of Employee Termination

May 08, 2023

Written by Complete Payroll

employee termination poor performance trees

Employee terminations can be hard on your remaining team members, especially if the former employee was a well-liked or long-time employee. While a well-thought-out offboarding plan and termination meeting can help smooth a bumpy transition, the emotional impact may require additional time and attention.

It's common for remaining employees to wonder if they could be the next person you'll terminate, so timely and effective communication should be one of your top priorities.

Keep Communication Clear and Open

When an employee termination occurs, it's essential to be as transparent and straightforward as possible while still honoring the privacy of the person leaving. For the next several weeks, or longer if needed, increase the frequency of your communication to help remaining employees feel connected and supported. An unexpected termination can leave the rest of the team feeling insecure and even jumpy. 

Communicate to your remaining employees that the person is no longer with the company and acknowledge the changes it will bring. If it helps others avoid making the same mistakes, explain why the termination occurred, being careful not to violate any laws. Communicate this information in a clear and non-threatening way to avoid escalating your remaining employees' fear of being next. Quickly address any gossip or negativity by reminding team members to treat the former employee professionally and compassionately.

Let your team know if there is a timeframe for replacing the outgoing employee or the estimated timeline for transitioning their workload to the remaining staff. If a high-level plan for transitioning their workload is available, share it immediately. If not, tell your team you're working on a detailed transition plan and will share it as soon as possible. 

Be As Transparent as Possible, Even With Layoffs

Layoffs can be particularly upsetting and cause remaining employees to wonder if more cuts will be made. 

If the end of employment is related to an impending layoff, let your team know the effective date of the change and whether or not you're planning additional terminations. Remind them that your door is open for questions and that you will continue communicating openly as additional information about future staff reductions becomes available. 

More Tips of the Trade for Handling the Emotion of Terminations 

Keep supporting your customers:

Immediately forward emails, phones, and other modes of communication to a current staff member. It would be a huge morale buster to flood the remaining team members with customer complaints because of unanswered messages. Instead of waiting until that happens, reach out to existing customers and strategic partners to introduce them to the new person who will handle their account. Remember, your outgoing employee has the right to privacy, and employee laws offer protection, so keep the reason for the transitions confidential.

Find reasons to celebrate:

Celebrate your team to help boost morale and create a more relaxed space for connection. Hit a productivity goal? Have they signed a new big client? Order lunch and allow everyone to stay on the clock while you eat together. The important thing here is to intentionally create additional time and space where your team feels valued. It will reduce their fears of further staff cuts, and research shows happy employees are 20% more productive. Most importantly, be present for these events to show remaining employees that you're all part of a cohesive team moving forward.

Create space for honest conversations:

Conversations about how this will impact other staff members' workloads and the work environment. Shying away from your employees' questions and concerns can decrease their feelings of safety in the workplace and encourage them to look elsewhere. Of course, the termination and transition plan shouldn't be the only thing your team talks about. Still, there are bound to be questions and concerns, so let them know your door is open.

Be realistic in your transition plan:

It's likely that most of the work your former employee was responsible for still needs to be done. Be realistic about how much additional work your current team members can absorb. Adding more work to remaining team members can create burnout, job dissatisfaction, and higher turnover. Handing simple tasks to a temp agency employee or intern may be necessary. If that's not an option, be clear about which tasks must be prioritized and which ones can wait until staffing levels return to normal. 

Give the leadership team space to process their experience:

 The emotional impact of employee termination on the supervisors and managers who had to make the call varies widely. Some may only need a few moments to clear their head, while others will need days to process what happened. Terminating an employee can create grief, anxiety, anger, frustration, and other emotions. Their feelings are valid; each team member deserves space to work through them. Point them to any employee assistance programs or mental health support your company offers. 

While there will always be some emotional impact of employee terminations, leading with integrity, compassion, and openness will help your team to recover quickly. To help you navigate employee termination and all things HR and payroll-related for your company, trust the Complete Payroll team to guide you every step of the way. For more information, contact us today!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting, or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.

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