If you’ve ever had to fire an employee before then you know first-hand that the termination process can be as traumatic for you as it is for the person losing their job. It’s one of the most stressful situations for company managers and owners, and over the course of running your business you’re probably going to have to do it at least once. While disciplining staff comes with emotional strain for everyone involved, you also have to consider the legal ramifications involved in the process. If you follow the right protocol when dealing with problem employees you can ensure the safety of your business. Better yet, if you make your employees feel like valued members of your company you can avoid disciplinary problems altogether.

Creating a great work environment

Yes, you’re busy running a successful business on top of keeping your personal life in tiptop shape as well, so you don’t have a lot of extra time on the side to make sure your employees are happy at work. Well, it’s time to make the time. If you can help to create a positive work environment for your team you’ll transform your business. When your employees feel encouraged, supported, accepted and valued they in turn become more motivated and start performing better. It may seem too good to be true, but it is. And the process of making work more enjoyable will rub off on you as well, bringing you a deeper sense of purpose in what you do and resulting in better management practices. As a manager, you’re responsible for nurturing your team and motivating them to produce the best possible work. You want great project outcomes? It’s time for you to start investing in your team.

Keep it simple

When we talk about motivating your team to work better we mean business, but it doesn’t have to cost you anything but a little bit of your time. If you’ve got the money and the resources there are plenty of staff-bonding sessions you can do with qualified facilitators, however, we know that’s not necessarily an option for everyone, so here are some easy (and free!) tips to help you create a positive work environment for your team:

Appreciation: Oh we’ve all been here before! The number one complaint from unhappy employees is that they feel underappreciated. It doesn’t take much to make someone feel good about their work – just a few kind, genuine words. A “great work on the project!” or even a “awesome job!” can make a disgruntled employee feel like they have a sense of purpose. If you’re unfamiliar with this kind of positive reinforcement, a simple “thank you” can go a long way, too. You can this further and have a meeting with individual employees after a project is completed where you can take the time to go through the work they did and give them a detailed version of your acknowledgment. This way they’ll be able to understand what they’re doing well that has impressed you, which will lead to them doing more of it! Detailed praise shows you’re actually paying attention and not appeasing them with empty phrases.

Acknowledgement: Your entire team has excellent ideas, and if you’re not making the most of their ability to bring in their own personal experiences and perspectives to their job, you’re not managing them correctly. While it can be tempting to stick with protocol because you know when something works well, you can’t afford to stay stuck with the status quo in the business world today. Making the time to listen to new ideas from your employees by factoring this kind of brainstorming session into the work week tells everyone who works for you that they’re a valuable part of your team. When an employee feels valued, they work harder especially if you’re giving them the opportunity to implement new strategies that will enable them to take some ownership for a project’s success.

Engagement: Connecting with your team members in person helps you establish a connection with them that goes beyond the typical ‘employee-boss’ relationship. Email is both a godsend and a necessary evil – yes, it makes communicating that much quicker, but at the detriment to real, face-to-face human contact! Email enables us to communicate almost completely via the screen, but your connection with your employees will benefit from in-person catch-ups. You don’t need to become best friends overnight, but getting to know your employees on a more personal level will only help strengthen their ties to your company. Take the time to ask your employees about their career goals, project interests, and 5 year plans – and then see how you can help them reach these goals. They’ll see your investment in their interests as a reason to invest their hard work in your company, so it’s win-win for everybody!

Trust: Here’s a fun fact for you – employees act the way they’re treated. Your team is made up responsible, intelligent and competent workers who deserve your trust. This means that you should be able to delegate tasks to them and let them own the tasks you’ve given them. This can be hard when you’re just starting out with your business, but trust is a two-way street! You’re going to have to make a leap of faith and trust the team you hired if you want them to trust you too! There are concrete ways you can show your trust in your employees. For instance you can communicate trust by asking them to make decisions for their part of a collaborative project, inviting them to discuss office policies and encouraging them to offer suggestions on how to make the workplace more productive. Entrusting employees with passwords and keys makes them feel important and vital to the company.

Last but not least: have some fun! Work may be work, but we all want to have a little bit of fun in our day. Fun in the workplace occurs when employees feel connected with a team where the following is present:

mutual respect

open communication

acceptance of individuality

a singular goal

When teams work well together, being spontaneous and having some fun only strengthens the working relationship between employees. Regular staff get-togethers are good for moral but even taking a brief pause in the afternoon to tell a few yarns over a coffee is a great way for your employees to connect with each other.

Bad luck

In some cases, no matter what you do to try to keep an employee happy, it just doesn’t work. Whether you’ve invested in their training or you’ve bent over backwards to ensure flexible working arrangements, some employees get to a kind of ‘point of no return’. As an employer, you’re within your rights to release an employee who hasn’t improved, but if you handle the process poorly this small matter can turn into a disaster. The potential legal pitfalls in particular should be enough to encourage you to handle a dismissal well by balancing the rights and interests of your employee with the needs of your company. You really don’t want to have to deal with loss of business, legal fees, a ruined reputation, hefty pay-outs or a meeting with the Department of Labour.

Let’s be honest

No matter how fed up you are with the employee you’re disciplining, terminating them in haste or based on insubstantial evidence is going to cause you more problems in the long run. Have another go and trying to turn your employee’s attitude around – you could even consider a mediator to do this work for you. You might have to take a good look at the situation to see who’s truly at fault. Don’t fall into the trap of the blame game: it’s possible that your employee hasn’t had much control over their performance. Have you clearly defined the job description? In many employee dismissal cases inadequate support and bad communication are the culprits behind poor performance. Of course, if your employee is actually at fault, it’s time for you to implement frequent performance reviews where you can get an agreement in writing so you have complete documentation should matters escalate. This is your chance to remind them what’s expected of them, and a chance for them to turn things around. Now’s the time to let your employee know that continued failure to perform will lead to their dismissal.

Worst case scenario

Unfortunately, it’s not guaranteed that your employee will make a great comeback in work performance after you’ve given them official warnings. If this is the case, as long as you have the written evidence, you must dismiss them. You’ve got to put the needs of your business at the top of your list of priorities. Formally dismissing an employee is difficult, especially if they’re been with your company for a long time.

The best way to approach a formal dismissal is to:

• act quickly – don’t keep putting it off

• use compassion and sensitivity

• avoid yelling or lecturing

• give straight facts supported with written documentation

• let them have a support person present

• offer a letter of recommendation or a pay packet

Your natural compassion is going to try to sway you – don’t give in! Transferring the employee to another job is only a way to delay the inevitable. In large corporations this tactic can work as some people are suited to different jobs. In most cases you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and let them go. You may think that delaying a dismissal is your way of being kind, but it’s not. You don’t want to give more than a week’s notice as someone who’s been notified of termination will only end up disrupting other employees.

Cushioning the Blow

Getting fired is a shock to the system for most people. Shock, anger, surprise, and tearsare common reactions to getting fired, even when the employee who has been performance managed. Just keep in mind that your employee might not be the right fit for your business, but will be perfect in their next role. Offering a genuine letter of recommendation may be appropriate, and will help your employee take it less personally. Certain companies help dismissed employees find other jobs – usually as a way to avoid litigation! You don’t need to go quite that far. But allowing your terminated employee the option to submit a letter of resignation is a good way to remove the stigma of being fired and will help them find another job more easily.

Do it right

Sometimes getting fired is the best thing to happen to all parties, if the processes are handled properly. There are no easy ways to fire someone, and no way of telling how the dismissal will affect you or the employee – but one thing is for sure: you need to have a strong, loyal team if you want your business to succeed. If you’re a sensitive and compassionate business owner or manager you’ll be able to avoid the all too common nightmare of being taken to labour court.

The number of employees seeking judicial relief is on the rise due to the well-publicised sums of money being awarded to employees who have been unfairly dismissed. The best way to protect yourself and your business is to keep written records of employee performance reviews, and to try to nip any problems in the bud earlier on in your employees’ careers. At Smartpayroll we know the ins and outs of employee relations – because our staff are happy to be working with such a forward thinking company!

Additional Reading: