Terminating (voluntary or involuntary) employees is a part of business. When it comes to terminating Millennial employees, a slightly different approach is needed to ensure a successful transition occurs. The below highlights how to effectively involuntary terminate Millennials.

The most common types of involuntary termination are firing for poor performance or negative behavior and layoffs which include non-disciplinary reasons such as a reduction in workforce. The below focuses on termination.

Before firing a Millennial, ask yourself this question...

  • Would I eagerly rehire the Millennial today?
    • If yes, then no need to fire the employee. The urge to fire was likely a one-time issue.
    • If no, then ask: Can the Millennial meet expectations by being coached? (Does the employee have evidence of the skills needed to perform in the role and do they possess the capacity and willingness to learn?)
      • If yes, set up a detailed plan to coach them on the needed skills and expected behaviors.
      • If no, then it's time to part ways.

You are likely to encounter two types of Millennials in the workplace: potential-rich and potential-poor. Asking if there is evidence of the skills needed to perform and if they are willing to learn is crucial because it will reveal which of the two Millennials you have.

Since Millennials are early in their careers and have had an adulthood that's been delayed longer than previous generations (due to extended schooling resulting in less job experience and waiting longer to marry, have kids, and buy a house), Millennials will potentially lack the experience and direction needed to self-motivate at work or guide themselves in their career.

If the Millennial shows evidence of the skills needed and is willing to learn they are potential-rich. They will require more coaching, but the long-term output/performance will be worth the investment.

If the Millennial shows little to no evidence of the skills needed and is unwilling to learn they are potential-poor. Be clear and honest about their performance and let them go.

If you allow them to slide, they will set a terrible example for the other Millennial employees and damage their career and the company's reputation. Potential-poor Millennials will likely need to get fired a couple times before becoming a potential-rich worker.

6 Steps for Terminating a Millennial

Terminating a Millennial is much like any other generation, however, there are a few areas that you should pay closer attention to in order to successfully terminate a Millennial.

1. Check Yourself

Before taking any action, evaluate your performance as a leader. Have you been harboring any generational preferences? Have you clearly and consistently communicated the behaviors and standards? Have you modeled the right behaviors and standards? Have you explained the why behind the behaviors and standards? Have you been able to coach others into meeting the standards and performing well? If any of the answers are no, consider self-adjusting before moving forward with the termination.

2. Check with HR

Inform HR of your termination intentions so that they can provide any necessary guidance. Ensure there is a trail of paperwork throughout the process.

3. Provide a Warning

Meet with the employee to discuss their low performance or negative behavior. Inform them what specific changes need to be made and provide a timeframe (30-90 days) to turn it around.

When firing Millennials, consider a "coaching out" approach. Have a conversation where you ask questions like,

  • "If you could create a position for yourself, what would it be?"
  • "If you could work anywhere or on anything in the company, where or what would it be?"

An ideal situation is the Millennial employee describes a role that does not exist at the company. That will not only confirm that they should be moving on but they now have a better idea of what they'd like to do and the manager moves into a position to help the employee transition to a better fit. Millennials will appreciate the candor and coaching.

4. Create a Plan

Have a plan for reassigning the terminated employee's job duties before the termination occurs. The potential firing represents a diminished team and likely more work. Have a plan to continue projects, satisfy clients, and put the rest of the team at ease once the termination is finalized.

5. Fire the Employee

If no changes have happened since the warning, it's time to fire the employee.

  • Get final buy-in. To confirm that terminating the employee is the best decision, consider consulting (again) with HR or your leadership team.
  • Involve HR. When questions arise and/or to help manage the process, make sure HR is involved.
  • Pick a day and time. Earlier in the week is ideal. The time of day is subjective. Morning gets the tough conversation out of the way early and allows the employee time to pack up and search for a new job. Afternoon allows the manager to walk out with the employee like a normal day in order to limit making a scene.
  • Have HR represented. For legal reasons, ensure that an HR rep is able to attend the meeting. This is also helpful in case the employee threatens retaliation.
  • Be straightforward. When meeting with the employee, avoid small talk. Consider starting directly with, "I've got some bad news for you. Your employment has been terminated." Using the past tense is important. Then in one or two short sentences, state the reason for the termination.
  • Provide next steps. Inform them when they are expected to leave (ideally immediately after gathering their personal belongings). Explain how much severance pay (if any) will be provided, what benefits are available to them, what happens with unused vacation time, how ongoing projects will be handled, etc.
  • Field their questions. Instead of handing over the conversation to HR, stay and answer any questions the employee has. If the employee objects or retaliates, answer with "I'm sorry, but my mind is made up" or "I'm sorry that the situation has gotten to this point."
  • Sign a release. Ask HR or legal if a "release of liability" is recommended for this termination. If so, consider incentivizing the employee with extending their severance pay if they sign the release for example.
  • Involve IT. Millennials are likely to have many company applications on their personal devices that will need to be migrated or closed.
  • Escort out. Depending on how the conversation went, consider escorting the employee out to ensure no damage or stealing occurs.
  • End graciously. Show compassion. Offer to serve as a reference, write a recommendation, or provide other help.
    • Based on the coaching or meetings leading up to the firing, provide suggestions about what industries or jobs would be a fit for the Millennial employee. Consider writing a recommendation or referring them to a company that would be a fit for them.
    • Millennials will turn to their robust social networks to either smear or praise their employer. Ending graciously will help limit any blowback.

6. Tell the Team

Before the rumor mill gets a chance to start, promptly communicate the news to the rest of the colleagues affected by the termination. Don't divulge the details because it's confidential and you want to ensure the individual's privacy. It may be appropriate to assure people that the organization is not eliminating more roles and this was an isolated case. Highlight the steps you are taking to replace the employee to ensure minimum negative impact.