Knowing how to say goodbye: The process of letting someone go

There is no question that it is easier to hire someone than it is to fire someone.

EVERY ORGANIZATION has to terminate employees sometimes; the authors argues that respect and other factors are essential (photo credit: REUTERS)
EVERY ORGANIZATION has to terminate employees sometimes; the authors argues that respect and other factors are essential
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is no question that it is easier to hire someone than it is to fire someone. Similarly it is more comfortable to be hired than to be fired. However, the firing process is less painful and more responsive to the sensitivities of the laid-off individual if it follows principles of appropriate professional practice informed by Jewish ethics.
In terms of Jewish ethics, denying someone employment is something that should be done only in the most extreme circumstances. However, a reality of our world is that sometimes people find themselves in the wrong job, one that is not suited to their knowledge, abilities, or skills. When such mismatches occur, it is necessary to end their employment. This article will look at an approach to make this difficult process more professional and respond to the sensitivities of the person who is being fired.
A key element of professional practice is a clear line of supervision and evaluation. During the hiring interview, the prospective employee should be given a clearly articulated job description that delineates role(s) and responsibilities. This document then becomes the basis for appraising and evaluating the employee’s professional performance.
It is also essential that the professional be responsible to one primary supervisor, who will provide ongoing counsel, advice, guidance, and, most importantly, supervision.
In the best of situations the supervisor is there not only to hold professionals accountable for professional performance but also to enhance their professional practice and to assist them in further developing it. Ongoing supervision provides opportunities for continual learning as well as appraising the professional’s performance.
During this ongoing process, issues, challenges and problems should be discussed, explored, analyzed and confronted when necessary. The employee should have a clear understanding of the supervisor’s evaluation of his or her level of professional practice and of what needs to be further developed and improved. The supervisee should always be aware of how the supervisor views his or her practice.
When there is a lack of clarity between the supervisor and the supervisee, it adds a level of anxiety to the professional’s daily work that is unnecessary and hinders professional practice. Unfortunately, some supervisors seek to increase the professional’s level of anxiety because they think that is the way to motivate an employee to work more effectively and efficiently. Actually, it has the opposite effect, causing the supervisee to become immobilized because there is so much internal conflict.
An objective evaluation process should be ongoing, with markers set at specific times. For example, new employees are generally evaluated after six months, and veteran professionals usually have an annual review of their performance.
When the evaluation discussion is focused on identified issues or challenges then no gray areas should remain. If the supervisor has consistently and clearly discussed problematic areas with the supervisee, then a negative evaluation of the professional’s work should not come as a surprise. The focus of any evaluation must continually be on the performance and not on the person.
Of course this is a great deal easier said than done, and it is always difficult to communicate a negative evaluation, even one that focuses on an individual’s inability to carry out his or her responsibilities successfully.
When the decision is made to end the professional’s employment the process should be structured and be sensitive to the difficulty the termination presents to the person, to co-workers, and to clients or participants in the agency’s programs and services. The employee should be given a sufficient amount of time to manage the ending process and tie up loose ends. At the same time, the final period should not be so elongated as to be uncomfortable or painful for the person or others in the office.
The closing discussion with the supervisor or the person who is giving the notice of termination should be respectful, and examples of the professional’s inability to perform responsibilities successfully should be discussed. There should be no surprises; the examples should be consistent with the discussions that have taken place over the past several months. The professional may disagree with the supervisor’s decision to end his or her employment, but the issues should be familiar and known to both of them.
The timing and setting of the discussion should be appropriate for ending a professional’s relationship with the agency. There is no reason to exacerbate the painfulness of the experience. The best possible outcome is for the professional to understand the reasons why this particular position was not suited to his or her abilities and skills and what type of position would be more appropriate.
Unfortunately, I have heard many horror stories from people about how they were treated disrespectfully: They were not only fired but also insulted by the process and the things that were said. This happens because the process described here was not followed and the person managing the firing process either did not know how to or was incapable of implementing a professional and sensitive approach to termination. Even difficult tasks can be accomplished while maintaining the employee’s sense of dignity and in at atmosphere of respect.
Terminating employees is a part of our professional lives in the Jewish community, and we should strive to handle what needs to be done in the most professional and sensitive manner.
The writer runs Stephen G. Donshik Consultants, and is the author of Strengthening Organizations and Their Leadership for Tomorrow.