5 Factors to Consider Before You Terminate Your Contract With a Staff Member

Firing any staff member, whether a teacher or an office staff member, takes a lot of mental grit. It is even more challenging when the staff member puts forth their best but has to go because of issues beyond your control. No matter the conditions surrounding their dismissal, from a poor performance review to budget constraints, these employees deserve to be laid off with dignity and given time to process the news. 

As school leaders, showing someone the door is a harsh reality that you’ll encounter at least once in your career. Here is some advice you can apply to soothe the pain, prevent the buildup of bad blood, and make the transition easy for everyone—including retained employees.

1. Be sensitive to their feelings.

Nobody wants to hear that they will be relieved of their job from a co-employee, so your plans must be airtight and confidential. The day before the termination of their contract, they were still respected members of the school community. This attitude shouldn’t change even after breaking the news; allow them to leave with all their dignity intact. Ensure that you have sorted out the fine details of this announcement with HR, including finding a reserved space where you’ll break this news. The room shouldn’t be in a conspicuous and busy area where they’ll have to walk past other staff members before and after the meeting and become a cynosure of all eyes.

2. What time is best?

When you inform an employee that their services are no longer needed, you need to pick a good time. You may have fears that notifying them in the morning hours or at the beginning of the week could ruin the rest of their day or week and decide to postpone the firing. Doing it late when the day already far spent or on Friday evenings is even worse. While you may be working out a severance package with HR and planning to provide any other on-site support, you might consider that these individuals have support systems that may be more helpful at that moment. This support system might be their families, friends, religious leaders, and counselors. If they get notified of the termination at closing hours, it may be late to gain access to these support systems immediately and when they need it the most.

3. Learn how to deflate tensions.

Losing a job is a hard reality, and nobody ever prepares enough for such occasions. So, when you break the news of an employee’s disengagement, you should be ready to watch a flurry of emotions from happiness to anger and then a dip into numbness and depression as the news sinks in. If you don’t have prior experience or the skill to de-escalate tension, you should ask HR for training before the meeting.

On most occasions, when staffers are disengaged thoughtfully, in a private space away from prying eyes, with their full severance benefits and a promise for recommendations—their emotions are likely to be under control.

4. Ease their departure.

Will they pick up their personal effects on their way out? Can they return to clear their office during the weekend or after work hours? Is there going to be a chauffeur to take them home? Can they call a friend or family member to help them and drive them home? It would be best if you had figured out these things already and presented them to the disengaged staff after breaking the news. This way, the departure is easier for both of you.

5. Re-hire the rest of the staff.

Firing a staff member may be done confidentially, but soon, their absence does the talking. It creates anxiety amongst the remaining staff and may cause some valuable employees to start making alternative plans if you don’t address them. You’ll need to reassure them of their value to the organization and tell them of the support the organization is giving the disengaged staff through the transition period. They want to know that they won’t wake up to a termination letter one day without any organizational support. Also, admit that you understand how the departed staff’s vacancy will affect their workload and appreciate the extra hard work they are putting in.   

In the coming weeks and months, you’ll have to be visible to the staff and increase your communications with them to quell any rumors before they fester. Also, avoid clandestine and covert meetings that may send false signals to the staff.

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