One of your employees has been getting in trouble a lot. You’ve given them chance after chance — additional training, a new work assignment, asking them to work remotely — but they haven’t been meeting your company’s standards. This employee clearly has anger issues; they’ve blown up at co-workers and everyone is on edge around them. Finally, you make the decision to terminate.
How do you let this person go? Do you tell them in person and risk a potentially violent confrontation? Or do you fire them over the phone and risk them coming to your site later, possibly armed, to retaliate?
Terminating problem employees is something every business worries about — especially those employees with anger management problems or those who feel they have a score to settle.
Those worries are understandable. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s (BLS) shows workplace violence to be on the rise, and that while robbery was responsible for the most homicides at work in 2017, co-workers and work associates were right behind thieves when it comes to loss of life in the workplace.
How do you mitigate some of this violence? When it comes to terminating a problematic employee, you have a secret weapon: the exit interview.
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What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a meeting between management or Human Resources and someone who is leaving the company, either through termination or because they quit or were laid off. Such a meeting allows the company to gather information from the person who is leaving, and also serve as a way to get company equipment or assets back and set the ground rules for the termination.
A former employee may be asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, for example— something that might have been an awkward request during the termination itself.
Why perform exit interviews for terminated employees?
While some companies may not perform exit interviews for terminated employees — they know why that employee is leaving, after all — the exit interview is an excellent tool for workers who have been fired, even problematic ones.
For one thing, an exit interview can act as a pressure valve, letting the former employee blow off steam by talking rather than by coming to work with a gun or other destructive behavior. The purpose of the exit interview is to collect information about the company, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask the former employee about their experience. This is an opportunity to hear how they feel they’ve been treated, and you may learn something you didn’t know about the way your company is being run or managed. It’s possible this individual has valid grievances.
An exit interview is also a good way to take the temperature of a terminated individual. By the end of the interview, you should have an idea of whether or not this person is a threat. They may come in hot, and peter out, or they might get more and more worked up. If you don’t meet with them, you’ll never know.
You heard a rumor about sexual harassment at your company but no one reported it. What should you do?
What are best practices for exit interviews?
Below are some suggestions for conducting safe exit interviews with terminated employees:
Meet face to face: Unless you are certain the employee is an imminent threat, it’s important to meet with the employee in person, if you can. You want them to feel heard, not discarded.
Meet in HR: It’s never a good idea to hold the exit interview in the same place the employee worked every day. There’s an element of humiliation to that, and if the person does prove to be a threat, there’s a risk. If possible, hold the meeting in Human Resources — whether that’s off-site or in a different part of the same building.
Make sure there are two exit interviewers: Use the buddy system when doing exit interviews. The presence of two people (one or both of whom may be from HR) may help to cool off a frustrated employee. An exit interview with just the manager who fired them will probably have the opposite effect.
Be sure your site has good access control: If your site uses hard keys, it’s impossible to know if a copy has been made by the terminated employee, or if they’ll “forget” to give that key back. With electronic access control, a digital badge can be deactivated right after termination or the exit interview.
Consider offering severance: Some companies don’t offer severance to terminated employees, however, it’s worth considering. When a person loses their job, it can seem world-shattering. Sometimes it is, especially if your company is the one major employer in a region. Some people who have been fired may become desperate. A severance package may give them the help they need to find a new job and see that there is life beyond your company.
Consider making introductions: Sometimes a person is fired because they’re not a good cultural fit at your company. For those employees (as long as they’re not a threat) consider hooking them up with contacts at companies that make more sense for them. This will give them an option for a new job, and show that there’s no rancor on your part — they just weren’t right for your company.
Have a question or scenario you would like to be answered next month? Email Dan and submit your question!