IN THESE times of economic uncertainty, even the best-managed and most profitable businesses may at times be compelled to retrench staff. Restructuring is not a “one-off” exercise but is now based on continuous improvement.

Termination, retrenchment and job loss — few words in our business vocabulary evoke as much fear and anxiety.

From the company’s standpoint, the decision to terminate an employee or group of employees is fraught with potential legal, public relations and business consequences, as well as being possibly traumatic for the manager undertaking the termination. From a personal perspective, terminations can be physically, emotionally and financially devastating.

Is there such a concept as successful termination? Is there a way to balance the needs of the organisation and the employee?

Human capital management firm DBM’s experience, in working with organisations undergoing restructuring, has shown that the answer is “Yes”.

The following process ensures that terminations are conducted successfully.


Assemble written documentation if the termination is performance-related. If the termination is due to job elimination, explain the rationale. Prepare all severance information in writing: notification letter, salary continuation/severance period; benefits; outplacement counselling and other pertinent information.


Write out the script you will use during the meeting and the information you will convey to remaining employees. Try to list two or three factual reasons for the termination. Keep everything short and to the point.

Next steps

Schedule additional meetings regarding human resources issues, superannuation and outplacement. Review what should be done with personal belongings. Specify when the employee should leave the organisation.


Don’t assume personal responsibility for the termination: it is a business decision based on business needs. Acknowledge your anxiety throughout the process.

Prepare your approach and talk about your feelings with human resource professionals and outplacement consultants. Do not discuss your plans with your colleagues or friends. This will avoid rumours and gossip before you are ready to conduct the termination meeting.


Role-play or practise dealing with anticipated reactions, such as shock, anger or denial. Comprehensive preparation will benefit you and the employee by providing a structure and objective information that will keep you focused in the midst of a difficult meeting.


Terminating an employee or group of employees is a difficult management responsibility — accept it. Even though there is no easy way, there is a better way. It is possible to conduct a successful termination, providing you are well-prepared.