After employee termination: how to care for the existing team

Working in isolation is very rare these days, so when one of your team members is fired, it can have a negative ripple effect that can seriously impact productivity. So when employee termination affects your team, what should you do?

Of course, it’s important to get work done – even more so when you’re one person down. And it’s a no-brainer to keep confidential information under wraps. But that doesn’t mean you become cagey with information as a result, or act like nothing happened. To ensure that you’re taking care of your team over the longer term, let’s review possible responses to the remaining team members’ most burning questions (whether or not they actually ask them out loud).

Question 1. Was that employee termination isolated, or is there a larger restructuring plan at play?

If there is a larger restructuring plan in the works, then leadership should have a communication plan out to employees about it that you can follow and reinforce.

If there is none, then simply confirm that the termination was isolated.

Question 2. Am I at risk? How am I doing?

Ideally within the next 2 days follow the announcement, meet with all the remaining team members one on one to talk about the impact of the employee termination (not the details of the termination itself). Do not wait until the next scheduled one on one if it’s farther out than 2 days.

In advance, let the team members know that while you can’t talk specifics, this is their chance to ask questions. At the meeting, keep the conversation to the impact on the employee. Topics should cover (1) that they are not at risk for being fired, (2) how you recognize they are contributing to the team’s goals, and (3) a reminder of the processes for performance improvement (formal or not), should it ever become an issue. Refer anything else to HR, or decline to answer in order to maintain confidentiality.

Question 3. How does this affect my day-to-day job duties, and for how long?

Certainly, there will need to be an interim plan for covering the terminated employee’s workload. If possible, allow the remaining team members to have input or drive the plan for coverage. They might be closer to the work and understand how to coordinate better among themselves than you can dictate. Be clear about when you will take the lead on any key customer communications.

Provide a time frame for replacing the team member, if that’s what you intend to do, so that you reassure team members that the extra workload will not last forever. In addition, let team members know if they will have any role in finding a replacement, whether that’s participating in the interview process, doing meet and greets for finalists, or nothing at all.

Finally, you will need to increase employee recognition for the remaining team members. Recognize contributions more often than usual. Acknowledge their extra efforts with fun activities that fit your culture, whether that’s happy hour, lunch, gift cards, or scheduling “cool down” team meditation or quiet times during the work day.

You might also like:

Employee recognition: here’s how to get it right

Strengths and weaknesses: Using one as a gateway to address the other

The 10x Rule: How Fear and Discomfort Can Signal the Path Forward

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