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Letting good employees go is always difficult for small business owners. There can be a number of reasons, not just economic. Deb Boelkes is the author of Heartfelt Leadership: How to Capture the Top Spot and Keep on Soaring.

She’s an entrepreneur whose background includes over 25 years in Fortune 150 high-tech firms.

How to Let Good Employees Go

Small Business Trends contacted her to find out how to let employees go with compassion. And why it’s best to do it that way.

Why Compassion Works

Boelkes framed up this approach in a business sense.

“Realize that whoever you may lay off, no matter what position they have, are influencers within their communities and beyond,” she writes .

“They have families, friends and colleagues who they are sure to talk to about you, your business, and how you treated them as an employee.”

In short, being kind and compassionate through a layoff influences how former employees brand your business. Not only that, they’ll be more than willing to come back and you won’t need to retrain.

In the end, what goes around comes around.

“When the economy turns around, you will want your best team members to be eager to work with you in the future. Either as employees, suppliers, customers, or even as consultants.”

Stay Positive

Make sure to highlight your soon to be ex-employees’ strengths. Boelkes says a big part of this positive approach are their contributions to the team. She says a little planning goes a long way. Small business owners should keep in mind that the positive characteristics of each person are different so bosses should know them.

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Avoid Criticism

“If you are laying people off due to no fault of their own, avoid telling them what you think they have done wrong , or could have done better, along the way,” she says.

There’s more than a compassionate angle to this tip too.

“If you treat them poorly when you lay them off, your best performers will be more likely to go back to work for your competitors,” she says. “They will know your weaknesses and they will be able to use them as weapons against you quite effectively.”

Offer Emotional Support

Keeping your message heartfelt is important. Scheduling a one-on-one meeting is a technique Boelkes suggests. It’s best to do this in person respecting distance, but you can do it digitally too.

Help Them Plan

Helping someone you’ve just laid off plan their future helps.

“To get the ball rolling, ask, ‘What is important to you in life, and what makes you excited about your career?’ Listen closely to each response.”

You can help by reviewing the companies with them that might have opportunities. Asking people outright what kind of job they would like to have is another good technique.

Offer Interview Mentoring

Boelkes also recommends coaching ex-employees through the interview process. And staying in touch. While she admits this is a little unusual, you might be able to bring a person back later on.

Be Transparent

“If lay-offs are not imminent, but could be a possibility in the weeks ahead, be honest and candid about this,” she says. “Don’t ignore the facts. Keep communication lines open. Better that team members be forewarned.”

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Keep Looking for Talent

Boelkes last piece of advice turns back to the business. She says small business owners should always be interviewing. Even after they’ve just laid someone off during a rough patch.

“Before long, things will turn around,” she says. “Have a list of great candidates, already interviewed and waiting in the wings. That way, you will stand ready to potentially make your best-ever hire(s) when the time comes.”


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