Several articles have been written about whether it’s a wise move to terminate before the holidays. There is no common agreement. Except to advise that it be done as “humanely” as possible.
Last year, Inc Magazine posed the question in the article, "Is It OK to Fire Someone Close to Christmas?" A reader had submitted a real life scenario. An employee who had a record of poor performance issues was on the chopping block several times. Only to be rescued by a soft manager. More recently, that employee made a significant mistake that appeared to result in a lost client. And it happened close to Christmas. Thus the question about when to terminate.
The decision maker raised a valid concern for anyone in this situation. What impact does a pre-Christmas termination (or series of them) have on company morale? And how much of a factor is this? Looming above that question is what possible further damage could result in waiting?
The response offered was wise. If the risk of keeping that employee on past Christmas is too great, be generous with severance. It’s a necessary tradeoff.
The better solution was to wait. Perception matters. Companies can hardly expect to be considered a “great place to work” while showing no compassion. And that morale issue with other team members could impact performance.
An interesting legal concern was presented in delaying the decision. “Imagine if you'd put it off and then he happened to file a claim for medical leave or a disability accommodation (unrelated to the performance issues) just as you were about to act. You could still proceed, of course, but now you'd have a sticky legal minefield to navigate, and your risk factor would go way up.”
Another article on this topic surfaced in FastCompany.com recently. This one dealt with "How to Make Firing Someone During the Holidays Less Horrible." I like it when someone offers “best practices” for firing at Christmas. Okay, I don’t.
There was good thinking presented, however. Here are some of the pointers. First, avoid surprises when possible. Often layoffs around Christmas happen for tax reasons. Alert employees well in advance that layoffs are likely by the end of the year if that’s going to be necessary.
Preparing for a meeting with the soon-to-be-terminated person is important. Think of what they will feel, what next steps they must take, and what you can do to offset the pain. Have options available.
A couple of other suggestions include that since bad news is still bad news, keep the meeting short. And don’t say things like, “This isn’t about you. We all love you.” Again, future potential legal problems could result.
One vital piece of advice was to be compassionate. People can respond to such a hurtful notice with anger and say or do things out of that frustration. Show grace in the way you respond.
Finally, remember that the remaining team members need attention. They will talk. An environment of fear leads to an unhealthy workplace. Reinforce their value and the importance of pulling together in a difficult time. It won’t solve the issue completely, but it reveals your leadership skill in helping people move forward.
Here is a proverb to remember in handling a termination: “A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.” (Proverbs 15:1, CEV)
My personal conclusion on whether or not to fire during the holidays is this: in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. What ALWAYS matters, is how you treat people who are hurting. Help them as best as you can.
It’s God who has His eye on managers who are naughty…or nice.
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