This is how to handle firing an employee

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

It’s time.  You’ve spoken to your HR advisor/attorney and are prepared to follow their advice. Period.

You’ve given your Office Manager every opportunity to improve her performance, but it just hasn’t happened. Offering extra training and continual feedback didn’t help, so you had no choice but to begin the progressive disciplinary process. You hoped she would make the necessary corrections over the 60 to 90-day period the process entails, but nothing changed. Her lackluster performance and poor attitude continue, and now it’s time to officially part ways before she does any more damage to your practice.

If you’re in this situation, it can be pretty stressful. While you know firing this employee is best for the rest of the team and your practice, that doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to doing it. And, if you’re like most dentists, you are dreading the conversation.

As difficult as it is, firing employees is part of running a business. You can’t let problem team members continue to hurt your practice. Keeping underperforming employees on the payroll will lead to conflict and resentment among your team members, and your patients will notice. So not only do practice efficiencies and production numbers suffer, you might end up losing patients as well.

Once you’ve gone through the proper disciplinary process and you realize firing the team member is the best way forward, there are steps you can take to make the process as painless as possible. Here’s how I suggest you handle this situation, from what not to say to how to deal with curious team members but first consult with your HR advisor/attorney.

Keep the conversation private. When it’s time to have this difficult talk, take the employee into a private room. Don’t involve the rest of the team, but be sure to have a witness (maybe your spouse or an attorney) present during the meeting.

It’s also a good idea to schedule the meeting during the practice’s off hours. This ensures there won’t be any patients around when the former employee leaves the office for the last time.

Be clear about your intentions. When you schedule the meeting, make sure the employee is aware what it’s about so she/he’s prepared for the conversation. You don’t want to take her/him off guard. And once you’re sitting face-to-face, don’t be vague. Be respectful, but make it clear the employee is being dismissed.

Keep it short. This isn’t the time to go into the details surrounding the dismissal. That should have happened during the disciplinary period. To avoid talking too much, I suggest you outline your words or create a script.

Remember, any script you develop should be short and to the point. Don’t apologize for having to let the employee go or place blame. While you might want to make the employee feel better about the situation, don’t say things like “I don’t want to do this,” or “I know how you feel.” Trust me, it won’t help.

Don’t react. There’s a good chance the team member won’t be happy about losing her/his job and may choose to lash out during your talk, which might include throwing out accusations and insults. Stay calm and resist the urge to defend yourself. Let the employee say what she/he feels like saying, but don’t react or admit any wrongdoing.

Have the last paycheck ready to go. If that’s not possible, be sure to tell the employee when to expect final payment, which should of course include all earned salary and benefits.

Let the employee get her things. Have someone escort the employee to collect any personal items left in the practice. Once that’s done, ask for the office key.

End on a positive note. Before she/he leaves, shake the now former employee’s hand and wish her/him well. Don’t linger or have a drawn-out conversation, though. Once you say your goodbyes, it’s time for her/him to walk out of the practice for good.

Call a team meeting. After the problem employee is officially gone, you can get the team involved. I suggest you call a meeting right away. You don’t want employees to start speculating about why the team member was let go or to worry about their job security. Use the meeting to squash rumors before they have a chance to get started. Let everyone know the person is no longer with the practice, but don’t go into any details about why—even if they ask. Keep the meeting brief and then let everyone get back to work.

Do what’s best for the practice
There’s no doubt firing a team member is an unpleasant experience. Even so, sometimes it’s necessary. Problem employees do nothing but damage a practice. They’re often the cause of conflict and low team morale, and their inefficiencies and poor attitudes might even hurt your patient retention numbers. When you part ways with team members who bring the practice down and replace them with employees who are eager to contribute to practice success, you’ll see significant improvements in your office. Other team members will be happier to come to work each day, production numbers will go up and you’ll enjoy a healthier bottom line.

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