Here are five things to help you through this stressful experience:
1. Don't give any false hope. By the time you sit down, the decision has been made and everyone has signed off on it. Don't let your employee think that maybe there's a chance. It just makes the layoff more painful.
2. Don't delegate—up, down, or across. If it's your employee who is being terminated, you need to deliver the message. Don't ask your boss, your peer, or, worst of all, another of your direct reports, to deliver the message. Don't even have HR deliver the message. This is a manager's responsibility.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Terminations (we all hope) don't happen very often, and this is not a time you want to mess up. If your company provides a script, stick to it. If it doesn't, write out what you want to say, and say that. Here's a sample: "As you know, the company is going through some changes. As a result, your position is being eliminated. Your last day is today." Then explain any benefits or severance. Know what you're going to say before you say it.
4. Have a witness. A termination should always involve a third person. You need someone who can testify as to what is said and add corrections if you make a mistake. If it's just you and the employee, it becomes your word against his, which can make for some unpleasant lawsuits. Ideally, your witness should be someone from HR or your manager. If neither person is available, one of your peers will do.
5. Don't stand over employees as they pack up their stuff. I know you are concerned about having company pens or secrets stolen, but you trusted the employee yesterday, so trust him today. If you have reason to believe there will be a problem, then hover, but otherwise, let the person have some dignity.
Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.