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Employ rules when exiting employees

Companies and human resource practitioners can make terminating an employee easier and less painful

Human resource (HR) practitioners have never had it so challenging.

Besides the continuing battle to attract and retain talent, another area of focus has surfaced.

While employee separation is nothing new to the HR department, recent media reports suggested a need for chief executive officers (CEOs) to re-validate the role of HR in their businesses - in particular, HR's rightful need to be strong advisors to the management on making the "right" decisions for the company's long-term benefit.

Working closely with HR practitioners in my business, it is comforting to know that the majority of HR heads now report directly to CEOs or business heads. In the past, they could be reporting to another functional head.

Having the head of HR report directly to the top person in a business sends a strong, and right, signal to its employees - that management values the contributions from its people.

Having said that, there is still room for improvement for HR practitioners to aspire towards.

Feedback by ex-employees who were assigned to us by their ex-employers for career transition support was mostly positive. But some ex-employees spoke poorly of their HR colleagues - the usual critique being that the latter were not strong enough to stand up for their fellow colleagues' rights.

HR practitioners wear at least three hats in the workplace: management, employee representative and colleague or friend. Many times, the lines are blurred.

Good employers take proper care of their employees even at the point of separation.

There are situations that warrant HR practitioners to take a stronger stand as an employee representative, such as when advising the management on decisions that border "being technically right" and "being humane". Exiting employees is one such situation.

Many employers lay claim to taking good care of its employees. Sadly, not all walk this talk when terminating their employees' services.

Good employers take proper care of their employees even at the point of separation.

Here are three golden rules.

GOLDEN RULE NO 1: BE HUMANE

Do not do unto others what you do not want to be done to you.

There are a variety of reasons for terminations.

Even if there is wrong-doing on the part of the employee, treat the termination process with due regard for the impacted employees' feelings, morale and future livelihood.

All of us work to make a living. All of us have family responsibilities to take care of. For the majority of Singaporeans, our financial responsibility is fulfilled via the job we do.

As a boss or HR manager, your responsibility is to ensure that these three boxes are checked:

  • There is zero chance of keeping the employee, for example, via a transfer.
  • The employee is accorded time and assistance to close the gaps if it is an issue of (under) performance. Unfortunately, companies often stop after scoping out gaps to plug. The poor employee is then left to figure out the "how". If they knew how, they might not be in that situation to begin with.
  • The employee is accorded the decency of a private and one-on-one conversation with the immediate boss when the news of termination is being broken.

GOLDEN RULE NO 2: PROVIDE CAREER TRANSITION SUPPORT

Progressive employers know these two things - the job market is relatively small and ex-employees do talk, and they will need to hire again.

There is a practical need to maintain the company's image as an employer of choice.

It is not mandated by law, but responsible employers should take the additional step of investing in professional career transition support to provide the necessary emotional and practical help for their ex-employees.

In this regard, our Government needs to be applauded for going beyond what many other governments do not.

There is a multitude of governmental institutions that provide such support, which typically includes career coaching, resume writing, interview skills coaching and job fairs and matching.

There are also private organisations that offer a comprehensive suite of career transition support services, including emotional advice to cope with losing one's job.

GOLDEN RULE NO 3: BE MAGNANIMOUS

This applies mostly to cases where employees had under-performed or are unable to get along with others, or where there are reasons other than company-initiated business ones.

Try to leave a door open for your ex-employees to move on.

Every employment contract has a break clause. Use it, and there is no need to elaborate the different reasons - this is useful for the employer and employee.

When subsequently contacted for a reference by an ex-employee's potential employer, be magnanimous.

Highlight what the person did well and leave out the negative ones - not highlighting the latter is not tantamount to lying.

Even if specifically asked, there are many ways of saying the same thing - be creative, so long as it is not an untruth.

What you say, and not say, can impact a potential employer's decision to proceed with an offer or not.

They may no longer be your employee, but they are still fellow human beings trying to find their next pay check to feed their family.

The role of HR has never been more exciting, demanding and exacting than now, and it will increasingly be so.

Only when HR professionals embrace this challenge will businesses continue to do well here, and this may be the key reason why the head of HR in some organisations is called "chief human resources officer" - the chief of the people.

Lead right - follow your heart as well as your head.

The writer is the founder and executive coach of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia.

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