Termination of Employment Due to Performance: How to Approach Delicately

By Cam Velasco

CEO & Co-Founder
Published: Feb 23, 2024
Handling employee terminations with compassion is critical for any organization. This post provides a practical framework for terminating employment due to poor performance - balancing legal compliance, clarity in communication, and empathy.
Close-up of a hand holding a blue pen, poised to write on an 'Employee Performance Evaluation' form, with the header and some text visible, on a wooden desk surface with a metal clipboard and a hint of a red emblem in the corner.

Handling employee terminations with compassion is critical for any organization. This post provides a practical framework for terminating employment due to poor performance – balancing legal compliance, clarity in communication, and empathy.

You’ll get proven techniques to navigate difficult conversations with grace, severance best practices, follow-up strategies, and expert tips for preventing future terminations by enhancing recruitment and engagement.

Navigating Difficult Performance Conversations

Having conversations about poor performance can be challenging. However, providing constructive feedback and setting clear expectations are important parts of management.

When performance issues arise, first have candid one-on-one discussions to understand the situation. Outline areas for improvement, offer training resources if needed, and collaborate on an action plan.

If performance does not improve after reasonable efforts, termination may be necessary. This should always be a last resort. Consult HR to ensure proper protocols are followed.

When termination is unavoidable, approach the conversation with empathy, clarity and respect. Explain the reasons factually, listen compassionately, and discuss next steps like transition plans. Treat the employee with dignity.

While difficult, these conversations are part of a manager’s responsibilities. With care and professionalism, terminations can achieve closure while minimizing harm. The focus should remain on supporting the impacted employee.

What to say when terminating an employee due to poor performance?

If an employee is being separated due to poor performance or a policy violation, it is important to handle the situation professionally and compassionately.

When informing the employee, be direct yet understanding. Clearly state the reason for termination while acknowledging the difficulty of the situation. Offer resources such as career counseling or job placement services.

Provide specifics on final pay, benefits, company property return, and any transitional support available. Answer questions transparently while refraining from debate.

Concluding the discussion on a forward-looking, constructive note can help ease tensions. Express well-wishes for their future endeavors.

With sensitivity and care, terminations due to performance issues can be handled ethically. The goal is minimizing negativity while setting the employee up for future success wherever possible.

Two women engaged in a professional conversation, with one facing the camera holding a pen and gesturing, wearing glasses and a sleeveless top, and the other with her back to the camera, in a business casual setting.

How do you politely terminate an employment?

Terminating an employee can be difficult, but following best practices can help make the process more respectful and minimize legal risks. Here are some tips:

Set Up a Private Meeting

Schedule a meeting in a private office to maintain confidentiality. Have another manager present as a witness. Clearly state the reason for termination and provide any documentation.

Listen Compassionately

Allow the employee a chance to respond. Listen compassionately and don’t debate reasons. Understand this can be an emotional situation.

Review Severance Details

Explain any severance package, benefits continuation, or other transitional help if applicable. Provide written details on these arrangements.

Collect Company Property

Request return of keys, ID badges, laptops, and other company property. Offer packing time and coordinate equipment return.

Show Appreciation

If appropriate, share appreciation for their contributions. When possible, don’t damage their overall career prospects.

Security Escort

Depending on circumstances, have security escort them out. Ensure they collect personal items beforehand. Prevent unauthorized access attempts post-termination.

Following best practices for terminations can help make very difficult situations more respectful. The goal is minimizing legal risks while also supporting the transition.

How do you gently terminate an employee?

Terminating an employee is never easy, but there are some best practices to follow to make the process as graceful as possible:

Offer opportunities for improvement beforehand

Before deciding to terminate an employee, first ensure you have provided adequate coaching, feedback, and opportunities for them to improve their performance. Set clear expectations and give them a reasonable timeframe and resources to meet those expectations.

If performance still does not improve after multiple good faith efforts, then termination may be the next step. Having documentation showing you tried to work with them will make the process smoother.

Have HR as a witness

When meeting with the employee for termination, have an HR representative present as a neutral third-party witness. This protects both the company and the employee. The HR rep can also help ensure proper procedures are followed.

Meet face-to-face

Schedule a face-to-face termination meeting in a private setting. Do not terminate over email, text, phone, or in front of other employees. Treat the employee with dignity by informing them privately and directly.

Keep it clear, short, and professional

Be direct yet compassionate when informing them of the termination. Provide a clear rationale tied to the failure to meet concrete performance expectations that were outlined previously. Avoid debates or accusations. Keep the meeting short and allow the employee a chance to respond briefly.

Before the employee leaves the building

Immediately terminate building/system access before they leave to prevent data loss or other issues. But first provide time for them to collect personal belongings from their desk after the meeting. Offer to ship left behind items later if needed.

Tell your team the news

Inform other team members of the termination on an as-needed basis. Explain the person is no longer with the company but respect confidentiality and avoid negativity. Be prepared for team reactions and offer support resources.

Prepare for the future

Reflect on lessons learned from the termination and see if any policies/procedures could be improved. Start the process of seeking a replacement hire. Support the team during the transition period.

Following best practices for graceful, ethical terminations reduces legal risks and protects the company’s reputation as an employer. Most importantly, it treats the terminated employee as a human being deserving of dignity and respect.

How do you terminate employment for poor performance?

Before making any termination decisions, it’s important to follow due process and clearly document performance issues over time. Here are some suggested steps:

  • Provide clear expectations and metrics for success upfront during the onboarding process and in regular check-ins. Make sure the employee understands what success looks like in their role.
  • Offer coaching and development opportunities to help improve performance before considering termination. Provide adequate training and resources as needed.
  • Document all performance issues objectively, including verbal discussions and written warnings. Be as specific as possible about gaps and give clear direction for improvement.
  • Evaluate if there are any extenuating circumstances impacting performance that need accommodation, such as health issues, family matters, or inadequate training.
  • Give the employee reasonable time and notice to improve after discussing gaps. Check in regularly during this period to monitor progress.
  • If there is still no improvement after multiple discussion attempts and a reasonable time period, consult an HR professional about next steps for a performance-based termination. Ensure proper protocols are followed.

When executed respectfully and fairly, a termination can still uphold positive employer-employee relations. The goal is to give the employee reasonable opportunities to succeed while protecting the interests of the organization.

Understanding the Legal Implications

Consult HR guidelines

It is important to consult your company’s HR policies and guidelines when considering terminating an employee due to poor performance. This ensures you follow proper protocols and reduce legal risks. Key steps would include:

  • Reviewing performance documentation to confirm it aligns with HR standards for disciplinary procedures. This shows due process was followed.
  • Checking if a performance improvement plan or warnings were required prior to termination. If so, confirm these were properly executed.
  • Discussing the situation with HR to get their guidance and agreement on proceeding with termination.

Documenting HR’s consent helps demonstrate the validity of the termination decision.

Maintain detailed performance records

Carefully maintaining documentation of all performance issues over time is crucial to justifying a termination decision. Key best practices include:

  • Keeping written records of all performance counseling sessions with dates, issues discussed, expectations set, and next steps.
  • Logging all performance incidents with specifics on what occurred. Having evidence of repeated problems demonstrates a pattern.
  • Getting written feedback from co-workers, clients, or managers noting problems they have observed. Document witness accounts.
  • Tracking project or task outcomes that were substandard due to poor performance. Quantify what was lacking.

Comprehensive records that reveal ongoing performance deficiencies despite feedback and support make termination decisions more defensible.

Having the Termination Discussion

Set Clear Expectations and Provide Feedback

When initiating a termination discussion, it is important to directly address any ongoing performance issues or gaps that led to this decision. Provide clear, constructive, and compassionate feedback about where expectations have not been met. Focus the discussion on specific areas for improvement that were previously discussed, and explain how those issues continue to negatively impact the employee’s fit or contributions. Though termination conversations can be difficult, aim to offer insight that may help the employee develop greater self-awareness and learn for future opportunities.

Listen Compassionately and With Empathy

During the termination meeting, make space for the employee to share their perspective and feelings. Listen earnestly and acknowledge their responses with empathy. Recognize that receiving this news can be incredibly difficult, and avoid debating their viewpoints. You may gain helpful context about their struggles or external factors that contributed. Keep the discussion focused on wrapping up current projects, transition planning and other practical next steps. Reiterate that the decision has been made at the organizational level and is not open to negotiation. Maintain compassion for the personal impact of losing one’s livelihood while upholding the boundaries of that decision.

Providing Severance and References

When an employee is terminated, providing severance and references can ease the transition. Here are some best practices:

Give Fair Severance Terms

When structuring a severance package, aim to meet minimum legal requirements and industry standards. Consider factors like the employee’s tenure and role. Severance shows good faith and compassion.

Offer Letter of Recommendation

Offer to write the employee a letter focusing on their strengths and achievements. This can aid their job search without misrepresenting their performance issues. Be factual and positive.

Having references and recommendations makes a difference, so consider what you can reasonably provide to help, even when terminating someone. An amicable separation benefits all.

Incorporate a Termination Letter section to streamline the transition for terminated employees, alongside severance and reference offers. Our concise Termination Letter template ensures clear, respectful communication, available here. This resource complements severance packages and recommendation letters, underlining a considerate separation process.

A person's hand pulling a document labeled 'Termination Letter' out of a brown envelope, with office items like a calculator, tablet, and coffee cup in the background on a dark desk surface.

Following Up After Termination

Check in on Former Employee

It can be valuable to occasionally check in on the former employee to see how they are doing. This shows you care about their wellbeing, even if the professional relationship did not work out. It also gives the opportunity for open dialogue to provide or receive additional feedback.

However, be mindful of legal and ethical considerations regarding contacting a former employee, and do not pressure them if they prefer no further communication. Seek advice from HR if needed. The goal should be to end the relationship on as positive terms as feasible.

Identify Workplace Issues

Conduct an internal review to examine if systemic issues contributed to the termination. Consider gathering feedback from other employees on potential workplace problems impacting performance. Address any identified issues to foster an environment where all employees can excel.

Creating a supportive, collaborative culture starts from leadership. Review policies and procedures around performance management, training, work-life balance, etc. Implement changes to better empower employees towards success.

Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent

How to Attract Employees Who Stick Around

Creating a positive and engaging workplace culture is key to attracting talented employees who will stay at your company long-term. Here are some tips:

  • Foster open communication and transparency. Employees want to feel heard and valued. Encourage managers to regularly check in with their teams.
  • Offer opportunities for growth and development. Invest in training programs and promote from within when possible. This shows employees they can build a career with your company.
  • Promote work-life balance. Allow for flexible schedules when feasible and encourage employees to take time off as needed. Preventing burnout improves retention.
  • Recognize and reward contributions. Even small gestures like “employee of the month” programs can boost morale and loyalty.

How to Build a Business Where Employees Want to Work

Developing a strong employer brand and employee value proposition helps attract and retain top talent. Consider the following:

  • Define your company mission, vision and values. Communicate these consistently in job postings and company messaging. Employees want to believe in what their company stands for.
  • Offer competitive compensation and benefits. Research similar companies and tailor packages to be appealing to potential hires.
  • Create a positive office culture. Encourage collaboration, social events, and perks like snacks or casual dress codes. The work environment matters.
  • Highlight development opportunities. Employees want a clear path to develop new skills. Detail training programs and career growth trajectories.
  • Get employee feedback. Survey current staff and exiting employees on their experience. Identify areas working well and needing improvement.

Try These Expert Tips for Engaging Employees

Boost employee engagement through open communication, professional development, and showing appreciation:

  • Host skip-level meetings where employees can share feedback with leadership. Demonstrate you value their input.
  • Set clear goals and provide regular feedback on performance. Employees want to understand expectations and how they are doing.
  • Offer tuition reimbursement or skills training programs. Investing in an employee’s growth builds loyalty and capability.
  • Recognize contributions with small rewards like gift cards, events, or hand-written notes. A little appreciation goes a long way.
  • Allow for flexible or remote work arrangements when possible. Offering autonomy over schedules boosts engagement.

Creating an exceptional employee experience requires listening, communicating, developing, and rewarding your team members. By focusing on engagement, you build an environment where employees are motivated to stay and thrive.

Enhancing Recruitment to Prevent Future Terminations

Write a Job Posting That Attracts the Right Candidates

When writing a job posting, be clear about the duties, responsibilities, and qualifications needed for the role. Outline the required skills and experience so candidates can self-select if they are a good fit. Highlight aspects of your workplace culture to convey what kind of employee would thrive. This helps attract applicants who align with your values and expectations.

Implement an Employee Referral Program

Existing employees often provide quality referrals since they know the work environment. Offer incentives for referrals that get hired, such as gift cards or bonuses. This motivates employees to refer candidates that would succeed in the role and fit your culture. Referred candidates tend to have higher retention rates.

Check how to crear a Employee Referral Program.

Refine the Interview Process

Look beyond qualifications to assess if a candidate fits your culture during interviews. Ask questions that reveal work ethic, motivations and soft skills. Consistently evaluate candidates against criteria tied to the role’s core competencies. Standardizing interviews and using scorecards builds consistency in the hiring process. This results in candidates that better match the job duties and workplace values.

Conclusion: Ensuring a Compassionate and Strategic Approach

Recap of Performance Termination Best Practices

When termination is necessary due to poor performance, it is important to approach the situation compassionately yet strategically. Key steps to follow include:

  • Providing clear, specific, and actionable feedback about performance gaps early and often. This gives the employee a fair chance to improve.
  • Offering resources like additional training, mentoring, or coaching to support the employee’s growth.
  • Documenting all performance issues and efforts to correct them, in case termination is ultimately needed.
  • Consulting HR to ensure proper protocols and legal considerations are followed every step of the way.
  • Scheduling an in-person meeting to deliver the termination news compassionately and directly. Offer severance and transition assistance where feasible.

Following structured processes with compassion builds workforce resilience by minimizing reactive or emotionally-driven terminations.

Looking Ahead: Fostering a Positive Work Environment

While performance-based terminations are sometimes unavoidable, the ideal is to cultivate an engaging work culture that brings out the best in people. Strategies include:

  • Hiring the right people for the right roles based on clearly defined needs and competencies.
  • Providing ongoing training, mentorship, and resources for people to develop new skills.
  • Promoting collaborative workstyles where teams motivate one another.
  • Maintaining open communication and feedback channels between staff and leadership.

With the right culture and support systems in place, companies can retain talent, maximize productivity, and minimize the need to terminate employees down the road.

Cam Velasco

CEO & Co-Founder

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