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Terminations can be done over video call, as long as they are done with kindness and respect.Kemal Yildirin/Getty Images

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Ask Women and Work

Question: I’ve been cringing at some of the recent viral videos and social media posts of people getting fired or laid off in awful ways. What is the right way to let someone go?

We asked Jenn Bouyoukos, head of people and legal at Bench Accounting and founder, Full Stack HR, to tackle this one:

I’m going to start with a Maya Angelou quote: ‘People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ We spend so much time at the beginning to make employees feel welcome. But the end of that employee life cycle is just as important. Exiting somebody is a skill set that’s so critical to your organization and your brand; the same amount of planning and communication needs to go into it.

I’m seeing what you’re seeing on social media and I am cringing too; I’m embarrassed for HR professionals and leadership who aren’t putting the effort in and aren’t leading with kindness and empathy. One of the biggest questions I have is where are the managers? I think one of the biggest myths out there is that it’s HR’s decision to terminate people. We facilitate, we coach, we help, but the managers decide. When I see them not showing up, I’m thinking, where are you? You need to be in that conversation.

In looking at the preparations [for layoffs], consider the timing. I make sure it’s nobody’s birthday. Is somebody sick at home or is there a life event coming up? What’s the reality going to be after they’re terminated and what are they going home to?

When possible, this should not be a surprise. If it’s a performance-related termination, there should have been all sorts of conversations beforehand where it was well understood where it was leading if there was no improvement. If it’s a layoff situation, it’s important that your CEO is communicating ahead of time, removing those surprises and being transparent. Don’t leave the grey areas for people to fill in themselves. Be human, talk about how difficult it was to make the decisions, how important these people are, and then what we’re doing for them.

I’ve talked to people who’ve been terminated and I asked, ‘Was a day’s notice that you could be on the list better than being surprised with a sudden meeting on your calendar with HR?’ They said, ‘I much preferred to have that notice to prepare and think about it.’ I’m also not a fan of cutting people off. Unless there’s a security risk, give them time to say goodbye. You would usually keep their access on throughout the rest of the day.

When it comes to whether terminations should be done in person or over video call, I’ve actually heard that it can be a bit preferred [to be told over video call], rather than having to walk past your teammates with a box. You can give them the option of whether they want to come in, pack up their stuff, or if they would like that done for them. It’s about choice – giving them some control and making them feel respected.

Another thing that is really important during layoffs is having the manager make it personal, saying, ‘I really enjoyed getting to know your spirit, your enthusiasm, and I’m going to miss that.’ One leader I supported shared a moment that really stuck with him for each of the employees being let go. I was in tears, it was so beautiful.

You should also be thinking about the ‘after,’ so making sure that they don’t have to go searching for their last pay stub and that they have everything that they need, such as access to counselling. And then finally, the recruiting or talent acquisition team can jump in and help with resume reviews.

You can have employees post on social media and take revenge, or you can have a mutually respectful conversation. It’s not easy, but there are definitely ways to do it with respect and come out of it the other way.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at

This week’s must-read stories on women and work

Kindness isn’t weakness in leadership

When leadership expert Bonnie Hayden Cheng was asked to write a management book in the early years of the pandemic, talented workers were leaving their companies in droves in what was eventually dubbed the Great Resignation.

“People were suffering, and companies were doing the exact opposite of what was needed,” says Dr. Hayden Cheng, who got her PhD from University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and now teaches at the University of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, companies that were sensitive to their employees’ stress and provided the flexibility and understanding they needed faced less of an exodus, she says. That idea became central to her book, The Return on Kindness: How Kind Leadership Wins Talent, Earns Loyalty, and Builds Successful Companies.

“Kind leaders who build trust with their people create high-trust companies,” says Dr. Hayden Cheng, who examined research on kindness, interviewed business leaders from around the world.

Read how to be a kinder leader.

How a Toronto company built a ‘system of flexibility’ for its neurodivergent employees

Sasha Boersma occasionally gets a calendar booking from one of her dozen or so employees for a quick meeting. The employee has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and just wants to talk. More specifically, they’re struggling to stay awake and need someone to draw their attention for twenty minutes until their medication kicks in and they can finally focus.

“It makes me laugh because I can’t ever imagine ever saying things like this to my previous managers,” says Ms. Boersma, co-founder and producer at Sticky Brain Studios. She is autistic, has ADHD and deals with anxiety disorder, so she understands all too well. She says about half of her company are neurodivergent. “But I’m also quite touched that we’ve built a community of this transparency.”

Sticky Brain Studios is an independent game and app studio based in Toronto, but it is far from the only company trying to do right by its neurodivergent employees – or those dealing with conditions like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, traumatic brain injuries or other sensory or cognitive conditions.

Read why flexibility can be crucial for neurodivergent employees.

Contemplating a job offer? Here’s how to know if it’s right for you and negotiate for more

You should be thrilled. You have a job offer and you’re pretty sure you’re going to accept it. Except it would be nice if they would start you at four weeks of vacation instead of three. Or if the salary was $5,000 higher. And what if you get another offer next week from that other employer where the grass is greener? Such is the whirlwind that runs through our heads as we contemplate the offer.

Mark Franklin is the practice leader of CareerCycles and Kadine Cooper is a career and life transformation coach at Coach K. We asked for advice on how to handle a job offer, going back to before you start your job search to the moment you start negotiations.

Find out the questions you should ask yourself before you ask for more.

In case you missed it

How can I get my point across without being perceived as pushy or bossy?

“I think the first step is to be clear and consistent about what matters to you, what people can expect from you and what you expect from your team,” says Allison Alley, president and CEO at charitable organization Compassion Canada.

“For example, one of the things I’ve been unwaveringly clear and consistent about with our staff is that we need to be, on the one hand, people-focused and committed to being a healthy organization, but also purpose-focused and committed to being a high-performing organization. Those two things must exist at the same time, and they are not mutually exclusive.

“It’s important to teach your staff to understand polarities and to manage those tensions with you. You can care personally for people but also challenge them directly. You can be clear and direct, but also kind and warm. I actually think women are really well-positioned to do to this – to bring the nurturing and care, but also the intellect and the challenge.”

Read the full article.

From the archives

Want to be a better leader? Stop trying to be someone you’re not

When Morgan Klein-MacNeil first landed a senior leadership position at the bank where she worked, she had three go-to shirts set aside for days she would speak in front of her large team.

They were specifically chosen to cover the hives that covered her neck and chest.

“My body was literally rebelling against the fact that I needed to talk to a large group of people that worked for me,” she says. “I felt like, ‘Oh, they’re going to find me out. Everyone here knows more than I do and I’m supposed to be their boss.’”

Ms. Klein-MacNeil was in her twenties when she landed her first executive position and she tried hard to lead like her peers, all of whom were at least two decades older than her. It was a white shirt, navy blue suit (and mostly male) crowd she was trying to emulate, and it just wasn’t working. Colleagues told her she came off as stiff and inauthentic and that it was hard to connect with her.

Read the full article.

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