Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 86, Issue 4, pp 519–534 | Cite as

Preserving Employee Dignity During the Termination Interview: An Empirical Examination

  • Matthew S. WoodEmail author
  • Steven J. Karau


Despite the ongoing need for managers to fire employees and the wide prevalence of downsizing and layoffs, little research has examined how the conduct of termination interviews affects employee reactions. The current research was designed to explore reactions to several commonly used termination interview practices. Two scenario-based experiments examined the effectiveness of having a third party (an HR manager or a security guard) present, mentioning the employee’s positive characteristics and contributions, and using alone, discrete escort, or public escort modes of exit from the interview. Perceptions of being treated with respect and empathy, levels of anger, and the likelihood of complaining to others and taking legal action were assessed. Support for the effectiveness of specific termination interview practices was mixed. Specifically, in Experiment 1, third party presence was viewed as demonstrating a lack of respect, whereas mentioning positive characteristics was generally viewed favorably. Experiment 2 showed the favorable effects of mentioning positive characteristics were eroded by a security guard escort from the interview, and actually reversed and became negative when that escort was public in nature. A public escort also produced the highest levels of anger. These results suggest that multiple aspects of the termination interview process should be considered carefully when developing managerial policies.


employee dignity ethical termination practices ethics in management employee respect termination interviews 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnold, D, and Bowie, N.: 2007, ‹Respect for workers in global supply chains: advancing the debate over sweatshops’. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17 (1): 135–145.Google Scholar
  2. Barber, B.: 1983, The Logic and Limits of Trust. Rutgers University Press, NJ.Google Scholar
  3. Bayer, R.: 2000, ‹Termination with Dignity’, Business Horizons, September–OctoberGoogle Scholar
  4. Bitner, M. 1990 ‹Evaluating service encounters: the effects of physical surroundings and employee responses’. Journal of Marketing, 54: 69–82. doi: 10.2307/1251871 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boatright, J. 2003, Ethics and the Conduct of Business. Prentice Hall, NJ.Google Scholar
  6. Cobb, S. and S. Kasl: 1977, Termination: The Consequences of Job Loss, Report # 76-1261 (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Washington D.C.)Google Scholar
  7. Deadrick, D. and P. Gibson: 2007, ‹An Examination of the Research-Practice Gap in HR: Comparing topics of interest to HR academics and HR professionals’. Human Resource Management Review, 17: 131–139. doi: 10.1016/j.hrmr.2007.03.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eagly, A. and Karau, S. 1991, ‹Gender and the emergence of leaders: A meta-analysis’. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 60: 685–710. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.60.5.685 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eagly, A. and V. Steffen: 1986, ‹Gender and Aggressive Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Social Psychological Literature’, Psychological Bulletin 100(3), 309–330Google Scholar
  10. Fisk, S. and Taylor, S. 1984, Social Cognition. Random House, NY.Google Scholar
  11. Gilland, S. and Schepers, D. 2003, ‹Why we do the things we do: a discussion and analysis of determinants of just treatment in layoff implementation decisions’. Human Resource Management Review, 13(1): 59–84p. doi: 10.1016/S1053-4822(02)00099-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goleman, D.: 1998, ‹What makes a leader?’. Harvard Business Review, 82(1): 82–91.Google Scholar
  13. Greenberg, J.: 1990, ‹Organizational justice: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow’. Journal of Management, 16(2): 249–372. doi: 10.1177/014920639001600208 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenwald, A.: 1980, ‹The Totalitarian Ego: Fabrication and Revision of Personal History’, American Psychologist 35, 603–618Google Scholar
  15. Hepworth, S.: 1980, ‹Moderating factors of the psychological impact of unemployment’. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 53: 139–146.Google Scholar
  16. Jesseph, S.: 1989, ‹Employee termination: some dos and don’ts’. Personnel, 66(2): 36–38.Google Scholar
  17. Kahneman, D., B. Fredrickson, C. Schreiber and D. Redelmeier: 1993, ‹When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End’, Psychological Science 4, 401–405. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1993.tb00589.x
  18. Kant, I.: 1785, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Gregor, M. (1997) in Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK)Google Scholar
  19. Karl, K. and Hancock, B.: 1999, ‹Expert advice on employment termination practices: How expert is it?’. Public Personnel Management, 28(1): 51–62.Google Scholar
  20. Kates, N., B. Greiff and D. Hagen: 1990, The Psychological Impact of Job Loss (American Psychiatric Press)Google Scholar
  21. Levine, H.: 1992, ‹The view from the board: The state of compensation and benefits today’. Compensation and Benefits Review, 24(2): 24–29. doi: 10.1177/088636879202400206 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Levinson, H.: 1962. Men, Management, and Mental Health. Harvard University Press, MA.Google Scholar
  23. Lewis, D. and Weigert, A.: 1985, ‹Trust as a social reality’. Social Forces, 63: 967–985. doi: 10.2307/2578601 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Loviscky, G., Trevino, L., and Jacobs, R.: 2007, ‹Assessing managers’ ethical decision-making: An objective measure of managerial moral judgment.’ Journal of Business Ethics, 73(3): 263–285. doi: 10.1007/s10551-006-9206-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Malos, S., Haynes, P. and Bowal, P.: 2003, ‹A contingency approach to the employment relationship: Form, function, and effectiveness implications.’ Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 15(3): 149–167. doi: 10.1023/A:1024765408933 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McCollough, M., Berry, L. and Yadav, M.: 2000, ‹An empirical investigation of customer service after service failure recovery’, Journal of Service Research, 3: 121–137. doi: 10.1177/109467050032002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McMahon, J. and Harvey, R.: 2007, ‹The effect of moral intensity on ethical judgment.’ Journal of Business Ethics, 72(4): 335–357. doi: 10.1007/s10551-006-9174-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Miller, R.: 2001, ‹The four horsemen of downsizing and the Tower of Babel.’ Journal of Business Ethics, 29: 147–151. doi: 10.1023/A:1006411413291 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Morrison, E. and Robinson, S.: 1997, ‹When employees feel betrayed: a model of how psychological contract violation develops’, Academy of Management Review, 22(1): 226–256. doi: 10.2307/259230 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nigro, L. and Waugh, W.: 1996, ‹Violence in the American workplace: Challenges to the public employer’, Public Administration Review, 56: 326–332. doi: 10.2307/976373 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Oyer, P. and Schaefer, S.: 2000, ‹Layoffs and litigation.’ Journal of Economics, 31 (2): 345–358.Google Scholar
  32. Phillips, M.: 1994, ‹ Should we let employees contract away their rights against arbitrary discharge?’, Journal of Business Ethics, 13(4): 233–242. doi: 10.1007/BF00871670 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Priem, R. and Rosentein, J.: 2000, ‹Is organization theory obvious to practitioners? A test of one established theory’, Organization Science, 11: 509–524. doi: 10.1287/orsc.11.5.509.15199 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Quinley, K.: 2003, ‹Ten Ways to Prevent Employment Practices Claims After Layoffs’, Fair Employment Practices Guidelines (3/1/2003) 571, 1–2Google Scholar
  35. Robinson, S.: 1996, ‹Trust and breach of the psychological contract’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 41: 574–599. doi: 10.2307/2393868 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Robinson, S. and Morrison, E.: 1995, ‹Organizational citizenship behavior: A psychological contract perspective’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 16: 289–298. doi: 10.1002/job.4030160309 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rousseau, D.: 1989, ‹Psychological and implied contract in organizations’, Employees Responsibility and Rights Journal, 2: 121–139. doi: 10.1007/BF01384942 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rynes, S., Giluk, T., and Brown, K.: 2007, ‹The very separate worlds of academic and practitioner periodicals in human resources management: Implications for evidence based management’, Academy of Management Journal, 50(5): 987–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schein, E.: 1965. Organizational Psychology (Prentice Hall, NJ).Google Scholar
  40. Schwieger, D. and Ivancevich, J.: 1987, ‹Executive actions for managing human resources before and after acquisitions’, Academy of Management Executive, 1: 127–137.Google Scholar
  41. Sidebotham, E. 2005, ‹How to use documentation to decrease the likelihood of litigation’. The Psychologist – Manager Journal, 8(2): 131–140. doi: 10.1207/s15503461tpmj0802_4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sulkowicz, K.: 2006, ‹Managing the Pink Slip Blues’, Business Week, (9/25/2006) Issue 4002, 18-18Google Scholar
  43. Watson, G. and Sheikh, F.: 2008. ‹Normative self-interest or moral hypocrisy? The importance of context.’ Journal of Business Ethics, 77(3): 259–269. doi: 10.1007/s10551-006-9348-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zinn, L.: 1988. ‹Handing Out Pink Slips Gracefully’, Business Week, (6/20/88) Issue 3057, 168-168Google Scholar
  45. Zucker, L.: 1986, ‹Production of Trust: Institutional Sources of Economic Structures 1840–1920’ in Research in Organizational Behavior (JAI Press, CT), pp.␣53–111Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations