Business professionals having meeting while one person takes notes.
Although it was a part-time job while in school, one of my college friends was fired around Thanksgiving. He wasn’t devastated, but it sucked. What a way to kick off the already stressful holiday season! He could have used that extra cash for presents or set it aside for living expenses the next semester. Either way, he was without a source of income during the holidays.
There was, however, a bright side. My friend was able to use the holiday season to spend more time with his friends and family. He also used his newly acquired free time to get a head start on the upcoming year — he was better prepared than the rest of us when classes started, and his résumé sparkled.
Fortunately, I’ve never gone through the experience of being let go during the holidays. But as a business owner, this question pops up every year — and there’s a good reason why.
“A vast majority of organizations run on a calendar year budget and year-end coincides with the need to achieve year-end numbers,” Steve Spires, managing director of career services and an executive coach with BPI group, told The Street. “This often triggers the decision to reduce costs, including people and expenses to meet the budget.”
What Warrants a Firing?
Besides meeting budgets, you may have to make this difficult decision for a variety of reasons:
- Performance-related issues, such as not being able to handle the responsibilities of the job
- Behavioral issues, like frequently calling out of work or creating a toxic work environment
- An inability to fit in with your company’s culture
- Seasonal work cycles
- An acquisition that means the company must be reorganized
The timing may be poor with any of the above factors, and your hand may be forced. From my experience, however, there are better times to fire an employee. If you run a seasonal business, both you and your employees are well aware of the fact that cutbacks are inevitable; everyone should have been prepared in advance. Acquisitions rarely occur overnight; when they’re on the horizon, they should be openly discussed so people can brace themselves for the possibility that they’ll be let go.
If you must fire an employee because of performance, culture fit, or financial issues, consider alternative dates. Usually, hiring surges during the first several months of the year and then again in the fall. If possible, wait until the start of the year or make your decision before the holiday season gets underway.
The exception to the rule? If an employee has done something egregious — like harassing a co-worker, making a devastatingly costly mistake, or committing a crime — he must be terminated immediately.
Why You Shouldn’t Fire Someone Around the Holidays
Unless an employee has done harm to your business and reputation, there are several other reasons why I’m against firing someone during the most wonderful time of the year.
1. It’s not good for your well-being or your employees’.
If you’re like me, you enjoy the holiday season. But, let’s be honest, it’s also a stressful time of year. On top of meeting your work obligations before the end of the year, time management becomes more of a concern, what with holiday parties and shopping. Considering that past studies have found that firing someone can be just as stressful as being fired, do you really want to add to your current stress level?
Just like you, your team is dealing with additional stress around the holidays. Thinning your ranks means your teammates will have to pick up the slack. Besides their own responsibilities, they’ll be held accountable for completing their former colleague’s workload.
Furthermore, it’s not just good for morale. How can the rest of your team enjoy the holidays or remain focused when they see their co-workers — who may be their friends — being let go right before the holidays? You may lose trust among those who think you’re heartless. Others may worry they’ll be the next to go. This can have a long-lasting effect on your company’s overall productivity.
2. Your employee will have reduced access to resources.
This isn’t directly tied to you, but if you’re a compassionate and empathetic leader, you should definitely take this into account: Getting fired is a traumatic experience. As such, people may need to seek help, like speaking with a counselor or signing up for unemployment benefits.
Unfortunately, these resources may not be available until the start of the new year, putting your former employee’s mental health and finances in peril. That can be further complicated if he or she has dependents.
3. It may not actually benefit your bottom line.
According to Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, there’s no evidence that layoffs will help your company’s financial performance. Cappelli adds that employees will only accept layoffs if your organization is in serious trouble.
“If it is simply to try to improve financial performance, [people] aren’t as likely to accept [layoffs], and of course, they won’t work anyway,” he says.
4. There may be legal ramifications.
Never fire an employee out of the blue — no matter what time of year it is. Even if it’s justified, you still need to meet with him to discuss why he’s being fired. If he committed a fireable offense, conduct a proper investigation so you have the facts, not just opinions or hearsay.
If you must let him go because of financial or performance issues, be transparent. However, if you believe that the employee can improve, meet with him to discuss the areas that he needs to strengthen to stay in his role.
In short, terminating someone without just cause can land you in trouble legally. This is particularly true if you surprise an employee with the gift of a pink slip during the holidays. If he or she was relying on bonuses to make the holidays merry and bright, there will be some extra reflection going on, and that may not be in your favor.
Firing someone during the holidays isn’t advisable unless it’s absolutely necessary. If it’s unavoidable, do your best to make the transition as painless as possible. Write the employee a glowing reference letter. Refer him to an associate looking for someone who possesses his unique set of skills — people’s strengths can make them a great fit for another role that doesn’t highlight their weaknesses. Offer a fair severance package.
While these steps won’t make a firing any easier, they will show that you’re an emotionally intelligent leader who genuinely cares about your teammates — whether or not they remain employed by you.