Dig Deeper: Furloughs vs. Layoffs
Delivering Bad News to Your Employees: Let Timing, and Medium, be Part of the Message
Just like getting dumped from a romantic relationship, no one wants to hear bad news from a boss via e-mail.
“That’s kind of a cowardly way to do things,” Bristol-Smith says. “That happens more and more these days: You don’t have to look in their eyes, you don’t have to hear the disappointment in their voice.”
If it’s a large announcement that affects many employees, breaking them into small groups can help, Javitch says. Small groups feel more connected and allow people to feel more comfortable about asking questions.
But a large group setting has advantages too: If everyone hears the same message at once, rumors or false information are less likely to spread throughout your company.
If it’s a one-on-one situation, it’s best to have someone else in the room with you and the employee, such as a human resources representative.
Experts differ on what time of day or day of the week is best for delivering bad news. But most agree if it’s a big company-wide announcement, you should wait until late in the day between the middle and the end of the week. But if it’s a serious issue—such as an employee caught embezzling—take action at the start of the day. Other employees will note of the seriousness of the situation if you’re visibly escorting someone out of the building.
For good measure, you should allow for a question-and-answer session after you announce most big news. Taking suggestions for how to improve the situation makes employees feel engaged in the process, Javitch says. You can ask: “What would you do in my shoes?”
“Let them be problem solvers,” he says. “They’re more likely to adhere to what the solution is.”
Employees will judge you by your actions in both good times and bad. Handling the bad poorly will sabotage the future productivity.
“That’s what happens after everyone else is let go: They start working on their resumes,” Bristol-Smith says. “And they don’t wait until the end of the day to do that.”
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