Dismissed employees How were you laid off

Conduct separation talks in a goal-oriented manner

Most managers find firing employees an uncomfortable task that they would like to do without. The following is an outline of how to handle this difficult task in a way that is as painful as possible for anyone involved in the discharge process. The starting point for this is a situation in which some of the employees are laid off due to restructuring or rationalization. We do not deal with the formal provisions for dismissals in terms of deadline / notification measures, etc. The important point here is how those who have to carry out the dismissal approach this situation psychologically most correctly.


I. Course of representation

The following is a series of good pieces of advice on how to go through a discharge process after the person concerned has been decided. In detail, it concerns the following points:

  • How should a discharge be communicated?
  • Dealing with different types of response
  • Dealing with employees
  • Exemption - yes or no?
  • Advising the dismissed as to the reasons why they were dismissed


II. How is a discharge to be reported?

Employees who are to be fired must be informed of this in a personal conversation and by letter. The personal interview takes place at the beginning of the week and early in the day. Never just before the end of the working day or shortly before the weekend or vacation.

The supervisor who is responsible for ensuring that the employee concerned is dismissed must always take part in a dismissal interview. You are not sparing any of the parties by “hiding” and letting others who have no influence on the decision announce the dismissals.

Works councils / shop stewards are also present at a dismissal interview at many workplaces. This can be beneficial for both parties, especially if the shop steward knows the reactions that are to be expected and is willing to deal with them “normally”.

It is important that the supervisor is precise and clear in his language and that he has frequent eye contact with those about to be fired. The supervisor must strive for a form of expression that signals both assertiveness and compassion.

When the supervisor is certain that the important information has been conveyed, the conversation is ended. A separation interview can last between 10 and 30 minutes.

Remember to also hand over the notice of termination in writing.


III. What kind of reactions can you expect?

Three types of reactions can be expected during the separation interview:

  1. Shock reactions,
  2. Grief and / or anger reactions,
  3. Acceptance reactions.


1. Shock reactions

A shock reaction is understood to mean that the employee "closes himself off" before being notified of the dismissal. A crisis reaction begins, which the employee feels physically and mentally. Physical reactions can include dizziness, nausea, difficulty speaking, palpitations, and the like. The psychological reactions mean that the “brain is blocking”, i. that is, one cannot grasp what is being said. Concentration and memory “fail”. This is the reason why a separation interview should be as short and precise as possible. You should wait until a few days have passed for more information about the conditions of the departure (e.g. calculation of the length of service, vacation pay, etc.).

On the outside, the employee can appear calm and collected, as if he has the situation under control. But inside there is despair and perplexity. You should therefore be careful and do not regard “calm and collected” behavior as a sign that the employee has understood and accepted the dismissal.


2. Grief and / or anger reactions

Another possibility is that the employee responds with either tears or anger. If the employee starts to cry, you have to behave respectfully and remain silent. Show understanding for the feelings shown and avoid comforting phrases like: "You will definitely find work again". It is more appropriate to say, "I understand that you are very sad, it is natural to cry."

If the employee reacts with an outburst of anger, this is usually directed against one or more of the superiors. For example, it can be expressed as follows:

“You couldn't expect anything else from this unsuitable company management”, or “I've worked here for 20 years now, and what are the thanks?”

It is important not to get into a discussion about the breakup. At this point, both parties are too affected by the situation, so that no objective discussion can be held about the background to the dismissal. It is Z. For example, it is more appropriate to say, “I can understand why you are angry. There are several reasons for dismissal. I don't think we should be discussing this now. I would like to suggest that we do this when some time has passed. "

For employees who have shown reactions of shock, grief and / or anger, this is not the right time to talk about possible future opportunities. The employee is not at all able to discuss the future on a realistic level. If the employee raises questions himself, e.g. B. "What would you advise me to do now?", Then the best answer is: "Right now you shouldn't plan anything, but take your time to first digest what has just happened". I will be happy to discuss the options with you at a later date. "


3. Acceptance responses

Here the employee indicates that the dismissal was expected. It is sometimes taken as a relief to receive confirmation of what has been a vague idea for a long time.

This is of course the easiest situation to deal with. However, the supervisor must not confuse this reaction with the shock reaction, in which the employee can appear calm and collected, but in reality this is not. Small signals can make the difference between a shock response and an acceptance response: B. a weak tremor (hands / tone of voice), sweat on hands / forehead, flickering or rigid gaze etc.

IV. Dealing with employees

1. Meeting with all employees

Immediately after the layoffs have been reported, it is important to hold a meeting with the whole department. The dismissed should meet colleagues immediately after the separation interview and not “hide” or leave the workplace.

At the meeting, the supervisor repeats the background to the dismissals and the principle on which the selection of those affected is based. Everyone needs the opportunity to express their sympathy and understanding for the dismissed. The meeting cannot be too long; approx. 30 - 45 minutes are generally d. R. appropriate.

At this meeting it is not useful to provide information about the future structure. The dismissed employees who then want to go home are given the opportunity to do so.

If an employee is still in shock, they cannot be let go home alone. People in this condition are unable to concentrate and the risk of being involved in an accident is very high. Under no circumstances should the employee in shock be left to their own devices; the supervisor can ensure that relatives are notified.


2. Meeting for those not released

It may be useful to meet with the remaining employees one to two days after the announcement of the planned layoffs.

Those employees who are not among the laid-offs are likely to find relief and joy that they have not been affected by the layoffs. However, it can be difficult to show joy when it can only be shared with the rest of the undischarged. Instead, “the face” one wears in the workplace will be anger and compassion for those who are laid off. It is Z. For example, it is not uncommon to hear the following statements from those who have not been released: "It is completely crazy to fire so many from our department, we have to do something."

The reactions are understandable and express the empathy that employees feel for those who have been laid off. This can lead to confusion and possibly arouse false hopes in the dismissed.

An agenda for a meeting can be:

  • Repetition of the criteria on which the dismissals are based, without addressing the persons concerned
  • Anticipation of the reactions that can be expected from the fired colleagues
  • Suggestions on how best to support colleagues

In addition, the meeting can contain information about the future structure of the workplace and the consequences of the layoffs for the workforce.


3. Managers also need support

It is important that the superiors who are responsible for the selection of the employees to be dismissed and who conduct the discussions are given the opportunity to prepare intensively for the discussions and also to "vent" their "experiences" during this process. It is therefore important that you have someone of your own to rely on. The best kind of support is to talk about the breakup process.

Layoffs can cause sleepless nights for many managers. It makes sense to open up to your own frustrations instead of trying to suppress them.


V. Exemption - yes or no?

If separations are made by mutual agreement, the company management will quickly face the release. Releasing laid-off employees or keeping them at work for the entire period of notice has advantages and disadvantages. It is a question for which there are no general guidelines.

No time off has the advantage that the workstation is still occupied by the usual workforce and that the employees are given a period in which they can gradually get used to the new situation.

Failure to release employees has the disadvantage that, in most cases, commitment and loyalty drop dramatically during this phase.

Some employees can develop such a level of bitterness and anger that they convey this to customers / suppliers, which of course has a very negative effect both internally and externally. Immediate release is urgently required here.


VI. Practical and mental adjustment

Eight to fourteen days after being released, most of the released are ready to look ahead and plan for the future. The employer can also help in this process. The transition process that everyone goes through has two aspects: a practical transition and a mental transition.

The practical change means that the dismissed person has to adjust financially if the person concerned does not find a new job immediately after the dismissal. Most layoffs need guidance on the financial changes. The employer can ask the employment office to show the financial possibilities after leaving the company.

In connection with the job search, it is i. d. It is usually important that he can use his old workplace to write applications. The employer should therefore make it clear as quickly as possible to what extent the working time can be used for job search and possibly for courses.

The mental change consists of, among other things. in getting used to the idea that you can no longer "define" yourself by your position ("I am an Authorized Sales Assistant", etc.) and that you may be unemployed for a period of time. How do you get self-esteem back when you feel marginalized and useless? The employer can offer the assistance of an external advisor.

Once the terminations have been made, it is likely that the dismissed would want information on why they were dismissed.

Colleagues and the next line manager should:

  • avoid "to fumigate" the dismissed, z. B. “We will never get a co-worker like you again.” These are exactly the thoughts that the dismissed person has made and which only arouse anger and are no consolation.
  • do not use big words, such as B. "Wait and see, there is bound to be a place just waiting for you." Instead, be honest; B. “I will miss you, we worked well together. Hope you find something new quickly. If you need my help, just give me a call. "
  • refrain from asking the employee to “take a look” more often. That’s no help.
  • refrain from farewell dinner or the like. Most of the laid-offs are not in a festive mood. A short farewell meeting at the end of the day and a short personal address from the manager is sufficient in most cases.

The employees who so wish should also be confronted with their weak points that led to the dismissal. This is often refrained from on the grounds that it no longer helps the person affected in this difficult time. The arguments are understandable, but not helpful for those affected. The dismissed employee needs i. d. Usually a lot of time to be certain why it hit him and he is not satisfied with the fact that you have been selected on the basis of "future operational requirements". Most of those affected find this an unsatisfactory explanation.

If the employer wants to give the laid-off workers the best chance to do better in a future job, both professionally and personally, they should provide information in a dignified but honest manner as to why the choice was so made.

The following procedure can be used:

  • Only give information if the employee asks for it himself.
  • Start by mentioning all of the things that you were satisfied with.
  • Then specify the lack of professional qualifications.
  • Then name any inadequate qualifications on a personal level, e.g. B. "I would have liked ..." (I-statements).
  • Speak in a way that doesn't make the employee feel labeled or marginalized, but instead has the courage to take action if the criticism is felt to be justified.
  • Finally, you should make specific suggestions as to what the employee can do to improve both their professional and personal qualifications.

Extract from the magazine for operations and personnel (B + P 3.2018), published by Stollfuß Medien

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