The jury is still out on whether it’s worse to fire someone or to be fired. No one enjoys being in either situation, and all leaders hope they’ll never have to deliver that news. Unfortunately, firing people is sometimes necessary. But you can limit the pain of terminating employees by preparing them for the consequences of not meeting company expectations from day one.
It may sound harsh, but this is actually the kindest thing you can do for incoming employees. When people are aware of expectations and consequences they can work confidently, knowing they’ll be treated fairly.
Setting Consequences for Bad Behavior
Although new hires are greeted with optimism and high expectations, we all make mistakes. In the workplace, these mistakes can lead to warnings or even termination. For employees who want to do well, mistakes also build maturity. Most workplace mistakes happen because people aren’t aware of expectations. Your job is to inform employees early on and give them as many chances as possible to improve.
The first step is creating a system with clear steps toward suspension and termination. This is the disciplinary process for our company:
- A verbal warning: Employees should receive this the first time they break a rule. You must apply verbal warnings consistently, with an eye towards providing feedback that encourages employees to change a specific behavior. Although it’s a verbal warning, let your employee know that it’s part of a bigger process by also putting it in writing.
- First, second and third written warnings: Give employees written warnings for repeating the same mistake or making a new one. You should continue to guide them toward positive behavioral changes at each stage of the written warning process. With the third warning, the employee should understand that the next offense will warrant suspension.
- Suspension: Two or three days of required leave without pay sends a clear message that, while the behavior is serious, there’s still an opportunity to change.
- Termination: By this point, your employee should be fully aware of the consequences of breaking company rules or performing below expectations. This should never be an impulsive or unexpected step. You want employees to feel your treatment is fair and justified.
In severe situations, supervisors may terminate excellent employees without clearly explaining the steps toward termination. The employer might end up firing a valuable employee to set an example. However, this erodes the culture of trust and honesty in a workplace and makes employees feel undermined and insecure.
In most cases, your process should enable employees to clearly see being fired as the next step. Disciplinary termination should rarely be a surprise. Clearly explaining your expectations for behavior at the outset will lead to much less pain if an employee has to be let go down the road.
Explain the Rules From the Outset
To avoid misunderstandings, discuss your expectations and disciplinary process during the initial interview. Going through this process is like explaining the rules before playing a game. After all, how can you expect people to succeed if they don’t know the rules?
Here are four tips for explaining your firing process to a potential employee:
- Don’t delay: It’s best to explain these policies during an interview or before someone is hired.
- Be specific: Don’t just outline the disciplinary process with a vague explanation of frowned-upon actions. Instead, clearly define what is and isn’t allowed at your company. Provide specific examples of poor conduct that former employees engaged in to ensure your potential hire is clear about the repercussions of specific behaviors.
- Put it in writing: Provide a written form of the behavioral code and termination policy, and ask all new employees to sign it.
- Be proactive: Give your employees positive coaching and feedback along the way. If you see a behavior that might lead to an infraction, kindly coach your employee back onto the right path. The goal of any disciplinary system should be to help employees improve.
By clearly explaining your company’s goals and expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them, you put your employees in a position of power. Now the choice to follow the rules and contribute to the company is theirs. This type of open environment inspires confidence, respect and trust — the foundations of any healthy work environment.