It seems that this topic is quite taboo, and most of the articles I could find about it talk about the legal procedures. It is important to follow them and legally comply, but at the heart it’s a human process, so it should be handled humanly and not only by the legal obligations. Many HRs or managers in small structures might not be used to fire people, so they don’t feel confortable and can act in a very rigid way, following procedures and forgetting they have a human being having very hard time in front of them.

This article is about how things could be handled to benefit everyone. Call me a smoothie, but I truly believe everyone could win in the process. That’s what I’m trying to highlight here.

First, a firing decision should never be taken easily and should be seriously weighted with many considerations. Problems should be discussed upstream and solved if possible, so this decision should not be a total surprise. But, once it’s taken, it’s done. The goal is to terminate the collaboration, and do it respectfully. The first step here is to acknowledge that whatever happened, there is somewhere a company responsibility, either in hiring selection, onboarding or managing along the way. So be kind and attentive to the person needs, he is having quite a hard time. Do not be rude rejecting the fault on him, focus on the human relation and just acknowledge that, for some reason, the collaboration can’t continue, but stay open to help him make this change less painful. Sometimes it’s just offering some time and attention to let him express his own views on what happened and how it could have turned eventually. These moments can be difficult but are for sure a great source of learnings if you prepare yourself in this spirit. Sometimes it can be helping him do the switch, offer some recommendations and open your network. Having some support in this kind of time is crucial for psychological safety and for sure, it will be remembered. And, sometimes it can be being somewhat flexible on the timing or even financial compensation. I heard some companies being afraid of setting a precedent so being very aggressive to set up an example. This is a moment of truth for your company culture, so be careful with your reactions and what they reveal about you. Personally, I think that being fair and assuming taken decisions is key, even when they differ from one person to another. They all have different needs, and you are not bound to your past ones. Some people will need support, others time or money. Equity is not equality.

Equity vs Equality

Why is this important after all? You don’t want this person anymore, and for good reason, so make it leave, fast.

First, you are not a monster (I hope ^^) so have a bit more empathy than that. But, if this is not enough to convince you, I have really pragmatical arguments. Even if you don’t want him anymore, he will not magically disappear. He has colleagues inside your company. Some who like him, and will talk, sooner or later. He also has a professional network, from other experiences, meetups, conferences or any other networking activity. He will look for another job, apply at companies, pass interviews, and they will ask him how it was being at your company. Even years after his departure. So, you will be in a better shape if he says nice things about you and, of course, the last thing it will remember about your company is how was the leaving process. Even if the collaboration was bad, if the separation was great, he will probably keep a good impression, propagate it and maybe even recommend you to future candidates or clients. So play the long game, set aside any hard feelings and give the best of yourself.

Calling out alumni network One way or another, any people in touch with your company will become a brand ambassador, consciously or not. I did not see many company build an alumni network, but I think it can be a great asset for the company. These people know you, and probably still care about you, even if they don’t directly work for you anymore. You may even be able to leverage them in some occasion. For example, Datadog did a clever ad, targeting former employee to bring back their strength and help the company again. They already passed the selection process, they already know the company, so they can be a great talent pool to address as working opportunities come and go.

The alumni network can also be a great argument on recruiting : being part of lifelong network of skilled people growing their career on multiple companies can give precious options for the future. Of course, you will not advertise leaving the company on the hiring days but if it happens to be known, it’s great. And, this is kind of unfair advantage big tech companies. have over many others. It’s similar to “grandes écoles” alumni network. You may not leverage it now, but it can bring a key introduction one time.

Nice leaving stories are still quite rare nowadays (sadly), so it’s fairly easy and cheap to be exceptional at it and build a reputation that spreads well. Airbnb did a great job at it during COVID-19. I was amazed to see many reactions on Twitter praising a company that laid off 25% of its staff. But, it was done really well:

  • being transparent with the reasons and the decision process
  • acknowledging it’s not employee fault (easier because of COVID maybe but always crucial)
  • generous leaving compensation (about 4 months of salary, reducing equity vesting)
  • address personal issues (health insurance for 12 months, allow employees to keep laptops, leave time to say goodbye)
  • offer support for job hunting (opt-in alumni directory, recruiters acting as a placement team, offer services of a career transition company and leave time for remaining employees to help laid out colleagues).

This is quite an exceptional set of measures in some quite an exceptional situation but comparing to other stories I heard about COVID laid off, this one stand out and, even with a so difficult decision, made the company shine. Of course, you may not have the Airbnb resources, and doing all of this for a single person is quite unreasonable, but this is inspiring.

As a conclusion I just want you to remember: treat people well, they will give it back to you. Your reputation is often more important than money. #payitforward

Do your company have an off-boarding process? It would be nice to share interesting ideas.

And you, what would you like the process to be when leaving a company, either from your initiative or their?