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The Best Employee Separation Advice I Ever Received…. was From my Mother



There has been no more significant painstaking activity in my years of management than having to lay off or terminate employees. Yes, I have been laid off myself a couple of times. Still, I can assure you that it was more excruciating for me to do this task to others than when it was done to myself. It filled me with great anxiety and many sleepless nights earlier in my management career. To be honest, it never is easy, no matter how many years in management. Obviously, because of the sensitivity of the nature of this post, I cannot give any in-depth details of occurrences. However, the goal is to reach out to younger managers who were once like me. I thought terminations and layoffs were going to take years off my life. If you are new to management or even not new like myself, I aim to help you find some peace in this process. Because if it were not for the advice my mother gave me years ago, I do not think I would have been able to find any solace in this process. Quite frankly, it could have caused me not to enjoy or even quit wanting to be a manager if I did not look at this call to duty from another perspective.


There are hard-earned pearls of wisdom that I have picked up that I wish I would have been able to tell my "younger Meghan." Below are insights around performance plans, separations, and separating with compassion that I wished I would have learned years ago:


  • Look at the facts of the separation in black in white. If it is time for a termination, and a manager has the documentation, the coaching and communication about the performance has been consistent with employee; than the separation should be no surprise. The issues arise when a manager does not document, communicate the unsatisfactory performance and there is not regular one on one talks, field coaching and written/verbal feedback. When it is time to separate the employee, I often tell my first-time managers to look back on all their notes and documentation when they need to decide on next steps. 99% of the time, they know what needs to be done. We often forget the hours of effort that has gone into that employee, so reading back on all the dedication, resources and help given, helps the head make the decision when the heart is hurting to move on


  • Do not work harder as the manager than representative on their Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). If you are new to management or thinking about getting into management, remember there is something very wrong the manager is working harder than someone on their coaching plan or in their job. (I have been there, so I get it). Co-dependency does not stop at 9 AM when the job starts unless you start becoming aware of this tendency. This intense concentration on this one underperformer on a team causes the entire team to suffer, and the manager will soon be looked at by their boss because he/she will start to question these managers capabilities. Unfortunately, the manager often will get blamed by the rep for their performance, but that lack of accountability usually got them in this situation in the first place. A reliable performance improvement plan has clear expectations and is there to do just that, help the employee improve. The manager is there to support that employee's efforts and document progress. Not work the plan! If not, then what happens next is warranted.


  •  We, as managers, can hold people back from their journeys. This is true even when it comes to employee separations. I have a compassionate view when looking at separations that can be different from other managers. My mother, an incredibly wise woman, gave me the best advice about employee separations years ago. She is a psychologist who is continually looking at people’s problems from a very humanistic view, but objectively. Most importantly, helping others with huge issues way beyond not doing daily calls or routing reports. She gave me advice when I was struggling personally and hurting when separating employees. There was one employee where this termination was affecting me significantly. I felt like a failure. If I were a good manager, I asked myself, "Why couldn't I turn around his performance?" Again, I wanted it so bad for him.


My mom said, "Meghan, have you ever thought that you are holding someone back from their journey? Maybe they are meant to be doing something else that is more in line with their strengths and talents. That will make them feel good about themselves. Fulfilled."


Wow…. that hit me hard, and she was right (like usual).


I do not think it was a coincidence that on that same day, on a flight, I randomly listened to a podcast by Jeffrey Weiner, former CEO of LinkedIn. He is known for talking about compassionate management. He relayed the same message the universe was trying to tell me that day. It made me look at this situation differently, not just for myself but also for this other person, because I never thought about how he could suffer from his lack of performance in his position. I only thought about the suffering that would come from the outcome of the separation.


I did find an article that expresses the same sentiments that I heard on that flight that fateful day, and I thought it was important to relay. In the article below written in 1998, "LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner: How to Fire with Compassion," Marilyn Haigh writes his sentiments down on the topic:


He states, "Firing a staffer is one of any leader's hardest things." LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, known for his compassionate approach to management, is often asked: how can you fire someone and still be compassionate?


"It's all about approach, says Weiner. He notes that many times staffers find themselves in roles that just aren't a fit and those people just can't get their job done. The situation leaves these staffers stressed and burned out. Previously confident people could become a "shadow of their former selves," he says. "You can see it in their body language."


"It's not good for their team, it's certainly not good for them and they bring that energy home with them," he says.


Firing or transitioning these people is an act of real kindness, he says. "One of the least compassionate things you can do is let that person stay in a role where they're way over their head," Weiner says.


Those words were spot on because when I finally did let that person go, the one I fought so hard to coach and keep, for way too long. He said that the job affected every aspect of his life, from a lack of self-esteem, debt, and family issues. He did not seem like the same person. I vowed that I would never do this again, that the most compassionate thing I could have done was to act early on that this job was not the right for him months ago when I knew deep down that this was not the right fit for him. Sometimes a coaching plan, role-playing, or anything else a manager can do is not enough.


Managers must have faith in themselves as leaders and the other person as a human being that they are on a journey towards something else, and we were, in a way, just a "pit stop" or learning lesson for both parties in our long journeys in our careers. On my end, it was a lesson to make sure that I did better the next time around, for the people I managed, which I have. This one situation changed my whole outlook on separating employees, and I swore I would never hold anyone back from what they were meant to do and manage the situation with as much compassion as possible, even if the person on the receiving end did not see it that way at the time.


Compassionate separations and management are not a choice for me. However, it is the ONLY way that I will lead. Those days of anxiety-ridden nights are gone because I know that I am making the best decision for all parties involved, especially those who need to move on to what they were meant to do and not be held back anymore, whether by myself or them. 


We were all meant to do remarkable things in our lives, who am I to hold someone back from what they were truly meant to do.

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