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Preserving Employee Dignity During the Termination Interview: An Empirical Examination

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Matthew S. Wood.

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Wood, M.S., Karau, S.J. Preserving Employee Dignity During the Termination Interview: An Empirical Examination. J Bus Ethics 86, 519–534 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9862-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9862-5

Keywords

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