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Terminating the Employment of A Startup Employee

A person’s employment is a huge part of their sense of self. It is something Americans do not naturally realize is a deep part of who we are but our social cues reveal it. We use phrases like “just a student” or “just a temp” when describing someone without traditional employment. During social introductions we typically first present a person’s name and secondly present that person’s occupation. We spend enormous amounts of our time and energy invested in the thing we do that we consider our employment. Anyone who has found himself or herself unintentionally without a job fully understands the depth of emotion that results from the separation.

Why Startup Terminations Are Different

The tie between our employment and persona are particularly strong with employees of a startup because startup employers seek employees who invest themselves in their work. Working for a startup generally means investing yourself in a dream as well as spending your emotional and creative energy building something. Nonetheless, sometimes start-ups are required to fire employees.

There are many considerations when deciding to terminate someone such as: severance, non-competes, industry reputation, and any possible legal action. Each of these considerations are serious but I suggest every employer also empathize with their soon-to-be-former employee as a way help make that employee’s transition out of the company easier for everyone. By helping the employee save-face and anticipating the employee’s reactions the employer can also help anticipate misperceptions that can be expensive to defend against.

What To Be Aware Of

Just like with any great loss, employees who loose their employment go through non-linear stages of grief such as:

  • Anger

  • Confusion

  • Self-doubt

  • Vengefulness

  • Indignation

As a Texas employer, realizing that a separated employee will have these emotions can help you respond fairly and appropriately. As an example, if an employer responds to a former employee with praise during a self-doubting phase, it is likely to exasperate that person’s reactions of confusion and indignation later.  It is better to determine what is appropriate, fair, and feasible well prior to a termination and then to stick to those principles in a detached manner after the separation.