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Setting People Free: thinking and talking about ‘termination’ differently

Setting People Free: thinking and talking about ‘termination’ differently

Date Submitted : 06/10/2016

Emma del Torto is the Founder & MD of award winning outsourced HR business @effectivehrm and gives a different perspective when is comes to the end of the employment relationship. 

The words used for the end of an employment relationship are overwhelmingly negative. I am on a mission to change how we think and feel about this. Change is part of life and it should not define who we are.

Termination. Dismissal. Redundancy. Sacking. Lay-off. Fired. Let go. Given the old heave-ho. Legal terminology or colloquialism, there has to be a better way to describe it.*

The negativity of the language (and the action) obviously impacts on the employee going through this process, but it also has an impact on the employer who has to take the difficult decision and have the difficult conversation. In my experience the employer will put off and often delay the conversation or even think that if they delay long enough then the employee will resign. Or worse, there might then be a less than adult exchange resulting in unnecessarily harsh words.

This article is about learning to think differently about the whole topic. If you are the employer then I’d like to think that there is a good reason why you are thinking about dismissing an employee in your business. Here are a number of potential reasons (not an exhaustive list):

  1. they are simply the wrong person for the role?—?not your fault and not their fault 
  2. they are not the right fit for the business (this is different to 1 and is more about getting on with the culture/colleagues)
  3. they are not doing the job to the standard that you require
  4. the needs of the business have changed and the person/role is surplus to those needs
  5. the business has lost work/contracts/customers and has to make some reluctant but strategic staffing cuts
  6. the employee is unhappy, disengaged and clearly does not want to be there (or even outgrown the role for any number of reasons)

You are the leader of your business. You need to be decisive and putting off a difficult decision to let someone go in your organisation could be putting your business at risk and have an impact on your bottom line. You might even be annoyed with yourself at your own indecisiveness, but this is more likely to manifest itself in the way you treat others.

Think about things a little differently. Your employee is a human being. But they simply might not be right for the business or the role in your business. They might even be very unhappy in the role. Often people take jobs just because they need to pay the bills and then fall into a trap of not being able to get out. They are unhappy, you are unhappy. It is a recipe for a disastrous relationship and in the meantime if there is toxicity this might well be seeping out to other employees in the business.

Set your employee free.

Set them free to do a job they love and are able to do. Set them free to find their job soulmate.

That is how you need to think about it.

I now have the process down to a fine art.

I have watched enough people be set free to know how they may well react. Usually it is a version of fight or flight. Just be firm and fair. Reiterate your points. Have a letter that sets out those points ready and printed out to give them. The letter should also set out the important housekeeping points (last working day, last pay date, how much they will be paid and any accrued annual leave). This process works well to mitigate further angry follow ups and any additional unhappiness and uncertainty.

email me at for a free ‘set them free’ letter template

*the disclaimer here is that it is assumed that your employee has been employed by you for less than two years. For employees who have been with you longer there are a few more complexities to deal with?—?but nothing that cannot be managed, if managed well. If you are a UK based company we are happy to help you set your people free

Emma del Torto is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur-and-wanna-be-writer. She is the Founder of EffectiveHRM and co-founder of PitStopHR (amazing HR for start-ups). Emma’s talented brother, Dom, is the artist and he can be found

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