Striving To Be a “Best Place to Work” Means Tolerating Some Risk in Separation Process

By Darren Kimball

Have you ever wondered what the companies on the “Best Places to Work” lists are doing that your company can learn from? One answer may lie in the treatment of terminated employees.

Since the separation process is an influencing factor on any company’s culture, we surveyed nearly 200 HR executives during a recent Five O’Clock Club seminar—Terminating Employees with Dignity— to determine how companies handle the separation process. After all, 83 percent of the surveyed HR executives agreed that achieving excellence in the separation process is an important factor in being perceived as a “Best Place to Work.”

This is not trivial stuff in light of the increased attention on talent-brand building. Of those companies surveyed, 20 percent are specifically targeting “Best Place to Work” recognition. Another 63 percent are focused on optimizing other objectives that they believe are correlated to this.

The findings reveal several takeaways for employers and HR professionals:

Most Terminated Employees Are Asked to Leave the Same Day, But It Doesnt Have To Be That Way
Thirty-seven percent of HR executives said that when an employee is let go, they are asked to leave the building the same day. Furthermore, 28 percent said employees are escorted from the building after the conversation.

The reasoning behind this swift termination process often lies in a small number of bad experiences HR executives have encountered. When asked if the act of giving advance notice had ever backfired, 59 percent said that they had at least one experience when the separated employee did things that undermined office morale, and 33 percent said that they had had at least one experience when inappropriate emails or communications were sent out. Additionally, 16 percent said that they had had at least one experience that involved tangible or intellectual property theft.

This means that giving terminated employees a soft exit is not risk-free. But companies striving to improve their talent brands work hard to strike the right balance, as opposed to a strategy of minimizing risk at all cost.

The Separation Process Must Be Improved
Fifty-eight percent of the HR professionals said that they were not satisfied with their companies’ separation process. Nearly half of the respondents said that they would like their companies to provide a more generous separation package. A similar percentage said that a key area for improvement was getting the manager to stay on script. About 40 percent replied that there was room for improvement in the communication between HR and the manager.

In the category of improving separation packages, one of the key enhancements that HR managers would like to see is the extension of an outplacement benefit. While 57 percent of the companies surveyed offer outplacement services to at least some of their terminated employees, a substantial percentage of those that do not offer it said that they were lobbying internally for it.

Even If Advanced Notice Is Not Possible, Dont Be Afraid Of a Kind Word
How you treat a terminated employee can affect survivor morale and your company’s reputation at large. If you say a kind word to employees during dismissal, they are much more likely to be positive about the company —or at least, not outspokenly negative.

Many HR executives agree this is a good practice: 68 percent of HR executives said that saying a kind word in a separation conversation has never backfired. And a mere 6 percent of respondents reported ever having had a legal problem as a direct consequence. Thirteen percent of respondents reported that their effort to be kind actually made it more difficult, regrettably, for the individual to move on. With a little more preparation, there should be an opportunity to mitigate this risk even further.

Terminating employees with dignity and respect not only decreases the chance of a lawsuit, but also keeps up morale among remaining employees. In order to land a spot on a notable “Best Places to Work” list, you have to be a great place to work, but also a place that terminates with dignity.

Darren Kimball is CEO of GetFive.

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