Involuntary Terminations, whether through layoffs or a firing, can have a substantial effect on a team. I am focusing on the latter, because, fortunately, I haven’t had to experience or implement a layoff process in my career. In my experience a team can feel sadness for their coworker, especially if they were close. In some instances, the team may feel joy or relief if their recently fired coworker was not a team player. They can feel anger due to reason, real or perceived. However, it is up to you as the leader to manage the team’s emotions and communicate the next steps.
While your team can go through a wide range of emotions, you as their leader cannot. We have to walk a fine line in which we don’t exacerbate the team’s behavior by mirroring their emotions. Nor do we want to appear to be emotionless to what has occurred. Be on the lookout for gossip and stop that behavior quickly, as rumors can have a negative effect on team morale. Open communication will be key, and some team members will have questions or want reassurance but be up front that you will not be able to divulge certain details or have answers to some of their questions.
The number one question I always get during these times is, “What did they do?”. Most of the time you’re not going to be able to answer this question, due to policy or privacy concerns. Your people’s inquiry into the cause is usually centered around them wanting to know what behaviors or actions to stay away from in order to avoid the same fate as their peer. I find it useful to remind them that accountability and expectations are regularly communicated and that any opportunities for improvement are sought after and completed together as a team. Of course, you would have needed to consistently hold your people accountable and add value to their interactions with you in order to have this statement be genuine.
Lastly, expectations should be reiterated, and plans communicated. If you will be replacing the employee then get your team’s feedback for what skills or attitudes they would like to see in the candidates. Depending on the situation, some re-training may be necessary due to the cause of the termination or to prevent future similar transgressions. Team roles and responsibilities may have to be shared or shifted, and both the duration and adjustments must be shared.
The act of firing someone can be one of the most difficult responsibilities a leader has to complete. But managing the aftermath and leading your team to progress can be the silver lining.