Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why Human Resources Should Never Be Delegated To Terminate An Employee

If someone works for an executive and is being let go, even if it is a staff cut-back, it is up to the executive, not Human Resources, to terminate them. Terminating someone is, at best, difficult, at worst, heart wrenching. But having human resources do it is cowardly and impersonal.  Part of all business is learning how to do difficult things. The deed should not be delegated to someone else.  After all, the executive knows them best and should know how to do the deed in the best possible way.

When people get called down to human resources they generally know what is coming.  However, I read on LinkedIn about an administrative assistant who was called to HR under false pretenses (she was told it was good news so she thought she was going to get a raise or promotion).  Instead if good news, she was terminated.  That just adds insult to injury. Luring someone to HR under false pretenses is the sign of a weak human resources person and is also a signal that the person she worked for was weak.  This incident prompted me to write this post.

In advertising, having HR do the termination is all too common.  I think it is terrible to have someone else do the deed. I always had the idea that if someone worked for me and was hired by me they should be fired by me.  Terminating anyone is difficult, at best, and never very pleasant, but that goes with the territory of being an effective manager and executive. Every executive, at one time or another, will have someone who works for them be terminated.  Delegating someone else, even if the reason is l mass layoffs is, in my opinion, dereliction of duty.  Human Resources can and should play a definitive role in the termination of an employee.  They can certainly council the manager on what to say and how to say it.  It is HR’s job to insure that this difficult situation is handled correctly and within the guidelines or policies of the company.

When HR does this deed alone, most times they barely know the person being fired. It is mechanical, impersonal and cruel. (The 2009 George Clooney film Up InThe Air depicted this situation very well.)  One compromise is that a human resources person join the manager, but, in my opinion, that too is sending a message that the remaining manager is not trusted or competent to do it right or is afraid to do it alone.  And two against one is always unfair. Some companies defend the practice of having HR in the process by saying that HR is there to insure that company policies such as severance are adhered to.  That is nonsense since it can also be attended to in a subsequent meeting.  Some companies and some HR people defend this practice as making it easier on the manager.  That may be true but it is too impersonal to have a stranger fire an employee.  

I am not attacking HR.  Once it has been determined that someone is to be dismissed, it is the role of human resources to insure that the manager is able to make the termination and able to do it nicely and sympathetically and, indeed, it is their job to insure that all company rules and procedures are followed and explained.   After the employee has been terminated by their manager, HR should be seen to insure that policies have been explained and that questions about procedures have been followed. This meeting with HR should take place far enough from the actual firing to give the employee time to get his or her bearings.  

A few weeks ago I wrote about reasons why HR gets bad marks. This is one I didn’t think of at the time I wrote that post.  When HR always does the termination, they are seen and remembered as “the bad guys”, which impacts on the way they are perceived.

An employee, unless they have committed some grievous deed, should never be escorted out of the building.  I have written before about the awful act of escorting a formerly trusted employee out of the building upon termination.  My opinion is that when managers do the firing, there is a period, however short, for the terminated employee to recover from the shock, especially if they had a decent relationship with their manager. 99% of the people who are fired are good people in unfortunate situations.  Throwing someone immediately out of the building adds to the humiliation.

Human resources should be the buffer who insures that all is handled well.


  1. Way back when I was part of the pre-WPP first round of layoffs at JWT. The President of the N.Y. office, Steve Bowen, went office to office to do the deed, down to the lowliest admin. I actually admired that. He was the leader and he took the heat and dealt with the aftermath. After we were told by Steve we were then sent to HR to learn about severance, etc.

    1. Thanks, Helen. I know how difficult that may have been for Steve Bowen, but it is the sign of a true leader..


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