You’re fired! Learning the art of making staff changes

Terminating an employee is probably the most hated job in the practice management life of a dentist.

You must try for a smooth exit without causing upheaval in the office, and ensure the employee leaves with ego intact and without filing a lawsuit for severance.

Here are some strategies to keep in mind.

Be prepared.

The meeting will likely be stressful, so don’t wing it. Rehearse the conversation and write down your thoughts beforehand.

Employee should leave immediately.

Ensure the employee leaves the practice after the meeting. A dismissed employee with nothing to lose is like a loose cannon and has the potential to inflict great damage to staff morale and practice reputation.

Be sensitive to timing.

If possible, be sensitive to issues and important dates in the employee’s life and choose a date that minimizes stress on the employee. Avoid holidays and vacations. Also avoid Fridays where the employee will be prevented from obtaining counselling before the weekend and is left for two days to worry and build up anger. Terminate near the end of the day when other employees have left, thereby minimizing embarrassment.

Never lose your cool.

The more hostile you become, the greater the likelihood that the employee will file a lawsuit. Treat the person with dignity. Termination is almost always very difficult for an employee and therefore you should show respect and compassion. There are instances where the courts have increased the award for mental suffering in cases where the employer terminated the employee in an arrogant or insensitive manner.

Choose a neutral site.

Select a location which provides privacy and allows the terminated employee to exit without the embarrassment of facing the other staff.  I recommend having the termination meeting in a neutral area, like the staff room. Don’t hold the meeting in your office, because an upset employee may not want to leave your office for what seems like hours. And finally, have another staff member present as a witness.

Keep it short.

Keep the termination interview to less than three minutes. Don’t begin the meeting with normal small talk. At termination interviews, be prepared to give employees a final pay cheque, including severance and holiday pay, thank them for their service and wish them well in the future – all the while maintaining a friendly composure. Never get involved in a debate about the reason for the dismissal as that could expose you to a wrongful dismissal suit. Give employees a chance to vent. Using your “active listening” skills will take some of the wind out of their sails.

Don’t fire for cause.

Don’t fire an employee for cause unless the infraction is blatant, i.e. embezzlement. On one hand, you save the “in lieu of notice” pay if your case holds up in court. On the other hand, a court ordered severance obligation may be severe. Laziness or absenteeism is not a reason to fire an employee, unless the employee has had been sufficiently warned.

Many dentists procrastinate the inevitable termination. You need to adopt the mindset that termination is a positive move for both the practice and the terminated employee. It gives the practice room to take on a better employee, and the departing employee the opportunity to succeed somewhere else.