Letting a staff member go is one of the most difficult things a manager has to do. And once the termination conversation is over, there’s another difficult task ahead: figuring out how to communicate the firing to the rest of your staff.
Managers often have two big worries in this situation: How transparent should you be about the circumstances surrounding the employee’s departure, and how might news of a firing impact other employees’ morale?
As for transparency, you want to balance the need to explain why the employee is suddenly no longer part of your team with protecting that person’s privacy and dignity. So you might simply let others know the most important basics: “Today was Amanda’s last day. We wish her the best. Her projects will be temporarily handled by Luis until we hire a replacement, which we hope will happen with six weeks.”
Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this. But if people press you for more details and they don’t have a true need to know, it’s fine to say that things didn’t work out but remind them that if they were in the employee’s shoes, they wouldn’t want those details shared.
As for morale, the key here is ensuring that your staff understands how performance problems are handled. After all, you may know that you had numerous conversations with the employee before letting her go, and gave her warnings and chances to improve, but since your staff isn’t privy to that, it’s important that they know how you handle these situations in general – since otherwise they may worry that firings happen out of the blue. Make sure that you’re open with your staff about how you address performance problems in general so that they understand you don’t make arbitrary personnel decisions and so that they feel confident that they would be warned if their performance was falling short and would have a chance to improve.
As long as your staff understands how performance problems are handled, a firing shouldn’t lower morale. In fact, sometimes exactly the opposite happens – since, after all, keeping low performers on staff is typically a huge morale drain for high performers. If your staff has spotted the problems, they’ll often be relieved when those problems are resolved. And even when employees are friendly with the staff member being let go, as long as they trust that you operate in a fair and straightforward manner, most people can separate personal affection from professional assessments.