When Is the Best Time to Let an Employee Go?

May 7, 2021

There are a variety of reasons as to why you might need to let an employee go, and chances are you’ve probably already seen a couple of them yourself throughout your years of work. Sometimes it’s a performance issue that’s driving you towards the decision of termination. Other times, it may be because you need to reduce your workforce and you’re forced to make some hard decisions. But the typical reason tends to lean towards performance issues and an employee’s inability to improve or meet the standard requirements of their position.

So, the big question is: When’s the best time to let that employee go? There’s more to it than just picking a day. It is important to ensure that you’ve taken significant measures to try improving the situation before deciding to let someone go, as it can affect their livelihoods, their health both physical and mental, and it can send reverberations throughout many other aspects of their lives. Before figuring out that solemn day where you’ll need to sit down for that final conversation, here are some steps you should take to see if the situation can be remedied.

Documenting Issues and Boosting Communication

If you notice that your employee is starting to suffer in their performance, there may be underlying reasons that you may be missing out on, reasons that can be addressed. The best way to discover these issues is to begin documenting what you’re noticing about the employee’s work. How are they performing in terms of production? How has their mood been in comparison to when they first started working? What changes to the work environment might possibly be affecting them? These questions not only will help you develop a picture of the troubled employee, but they will help you also analyze yourself as you decide on whether you’re really thinking about letting someone go in the near-future, or if you have faith that this employee can make a positive turnaround after a bit of managerial elbow grease.

After documenting some observations and details, begin communicating with your employee. You can’t learn more about them without speaking with them! Sometimes, employees just need encouragement to get back on track. Others might need guidance but are simply too shy to approach management. Meanwhile, others yet may simply be pacing themselves to avoid burnout and there’s a whole different issue that’s at play and needs to be addressed. But it takes conversation to discover the heart of the matter.

Developing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

Should you discover that your employee’s performance is suffering due to internal conflicts and behavioral complications, then first you’ll want to see if some verbal encouragement and active support can simply remedy the issue. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. But if that is still not enough, it may be time to have a conversation with them about developing a Performance Improvement Plan or a PIP. While you can develop it on your own, it can engage the employee and improve their sense of agency and confidence if you include them in the process. A PIP is meant to provide your employee with an idea of what direction to start heading to get back on track and become a productive member of your organization. Be sure to present it as such, and not as a step towards termination. Unfortunately, many employers have wielded a PIP as an indication of a nearing termination instead of an improvement device—so it will fall to you to ensure that the PIP is used as a positive reinforcement tool.

The Final Step: Letting an Employee Go… Perhaps on a Friday.

If even after those steps you’re seeing that your employee is still struggling, you may still have options available. Perhaps your employee will perform better in a different position, a position that might engage their skills better than their current one. But if you do not have enough confidence in the employee, then there will need to be a decision on what day to break the news and begin the process of termination and off-boarding. While there is a debate on what day is really the best, there are some reasons as to why Friday may be best:

  • It gives your employee a full week of work and pay.
  • It helps avoid potential workplace incidents, in the case of a terribly upset employee.
  • It also provides an opportunity to have the employee’s belongings quietly removed over the weekend, after setting up a time to meet with the employee and begin getting those belongings. This will help remove the risk of coworkers who may get upset to see the employee leaving.

While these three reasons certainly highlight why Friday could be a good day, your soon-to-be former employee will be distressed for several reasons:

  • The weekend is the time that employers are least to be looking at applications for new jobs.
  • The weekend gives the employee time to simmer in the frustration of being let go, which is harmful to their health.
  • The weekend is also when an employee’s network might not be as ready to help them find new opportunities.

These downsides can be compensated for, however. Along with taking steps to treating your former employee in a respectful and dignified manner, consider offering them support in finding a new opportunity, whether it is tapping into your own network or at least offering a letter of recommendation for their next job prospect. Not only will it prevent a former employee from potentially catastrophic consequences of being let go, but it will leave at least some goodwill between you and the former employee and it can benefit your own organization’s reputation.

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