It is said that on the scale of most stressful life events, death of a spouse, divorce, and loss of one’s job are at the top of the list. How you, as a manager, handle the separation of an employee can have lasting repercussions on future morale of the remaining employees, potential litigation from the impacted employee and future employment brand of the company. Here’s how to do it right.

Start by creating a transition plan. Choose the day and the time for the termination deliberately. While experts disagree on when a firing should occur, all acknowledge the importance of having a good business reason for your choice of time and day for scheduling the event. Doing it early in the day, early in the week, encourages the employee to get right to work on finding another job and reduces the chances that he’ll spend the weekend moping in a black hole or — worse — plotting revenge.

Seek wise counsel. Get advice from the company attorney or HR department before acting. They are the experts and may see unintended consequences or flaws in the reasons for the termination. They should be on your side, if your reasoning doesn’t meet their standards, you should rethink your decision.

Take it step by step. Bungled terminations usually result from acting without thinking. Before you utter a word, write down the most important things you plan to say and then stick to your script. Recognize what you’re up to. This is not a counseling session. It’s the announcement that an irrevocable decision has been made to discharge the individual.  Therefore:

  1. Get right to the point.Skip the small talk. Start the termination meeting by saying, “Hello, John, sit down. I’ve got some bad news for you.” By announcing right from the start that there’s bad news ahead, you will rivet the individual’s attention on what’s coming next.
  2. Break the bad news.State the reason for the termination in one or two short sentences and then tell the person directly that he or she has been terminated. Use the past tense. Say, “Your employment has been terminated,” not, “will be terminated.” For example: “As you know, Marie, we’ve talked several times about quality problems in your unit. Last month’s report indicated that your department still has the lowest quality index. We have decided that a change must be made, and as of today your employment has been terminated.”

When you’re telling someone they’re fired:

  • Don’t say, “I understand how you feel.” You don’t.
  • Don’t say, “I know that this hurts right now but later on you’ll realize that this is the best thing that could have happened.” It isn’t. It is a very bad thing.
  • Avoid justifications (“You should have known”).
  • Keep a box of Kleenex available.
  • Survival is a strong instinct — give it time to work.
  • Remember the Golden Rule.
  1. Listen to what the employee has to say.There are several predictable reactions to the news that one has just lost his job. The most common are shock, denial, anger and grief. Listening to what the employee says will tell you which of the reactions he is experiencing. Your response will be more effective if you know how he is taking the news.
  2. Cover everything essential.Be specific about what will happen next: pay, benefits, unused vacation time, references, outplacement, explanations to coworkers, ongoing projects, etc. This is one time when you can’t say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
  3. Hand them off to an outplacement consultant. Outplacement firms train their consultants to handle the wide range of emotions that may be present in a termination and can focus the employee on the future rather than dwelling on the past. They help the employee with how to break the news to their family and give them specific next steps. Understanding they will have this support begins the positive move forward.
  4. Wrap it up graciously.Close by thanking the individual for her contributions to the company. Walk with the now ex-employee back to her desk and wait while she collects any personal items. Go to the exit together, shake hands, wish her well, and part with both of your dignities intact.

No matter what, being terminated is difficult news, so there’s no panacea to get everyone to walk out smiling. That being said, to terminate someone with grace and dignity you first have to check in that you’ve don everything possible to make them successful, deliver the news simply, give them all the details concerning benefits, and paychecks, and offer sincere support going forward.