How to Deliver Bad News to Employees

Are you sitting comfortably? Welcome to my series of podcasts, which will help you navigate the inevitable difficult events at work that are part of being a manager. Today, I want to talk about how to deliver bad news to employees. 

Nobody likes to give bad news, and it’s especially tough for a small business owner who works so closely with their employees. In bigger companies, managers might get instructions from above to pass on undesirable news or give negative feedback so they can feel at least a little removed from it. However, whether you run a small or a large business, open and honest communication is the key to building trust.

If your employees trust you, they’ll be more motivated and productive, which equals profitability and success. But if you’re not honest, you’ll lose the credibility and the trust of your employees. Think about the times you’ve heard about people being let go by email or turning up to work only to be told they have no job and the company is in administration. This is not the way to do business. The way to do business openly and honestly is about being willing to tell people important things, whether or not they’re difficult to hear. 

The Steps to Take

There are steps you can take to deliver bad news and come out the other side with your reputation and your team’s respect for you intact. 

Firstly, don’t sit on bad news hoping it will go away or things will magically get better. Doing so can cost you money and it can make things so much worse when you finally get around to telling people. 

So bad news should never come as a surprise to your employees. Failing to tell them about prospective job losses or that you plan to let them go because of poor performance is a failure on your part. 

When it comes to having the dreaded conversation, make sure you give your employees the facts. Withholding information can lead to a lack of trust and breed fear, which turns into Chinese whispers that just compound the problem. So be direct and explain why the decision that affects them or potentially affects them has been made. Use clear language and leave no room for misunderstanding.

How to Communicate the News

If you are going to have to lay people off, explain why. Has your business lost a big client because it had to make cuts?

Say so and also express your disappointment at what has happened. Once you have delivered the news, ask about your employees’ thoughts and concerns, even if they won’t be particularly pleasant for you to hear. Then, people might need some breathing space to take in everything that has been said.

During this time, you must let employees know you’re there to support them, whatever happens next. It’s about being constructive and finding solutions to whatever has caused an issue. So, if you have lost one of your biggest clients, what can you do about it? Can you find ways of attracting new clients or reinforcing your relationship with existing clients to steady the ship?

Hopefully this will help draw a line under the undesirable situation and focus people’s minds on the future. It also brings hope that the problem will be solved. A bad situation without hope of at least a satisfactory resolution always seems worse. 

And finally, something that often gets overlooked when managers have to give employees bad news-treating them with respect. Firing someone by email or failing to give them notice about job losses tells your employees that you don’t care about them or value them.

Your employees are human beings with families and bills to pay, and treating them with respect is the least they deserve. Even if you have to give bad news, like you have to lay people off, it will obviously be upsetting for them, but if you deliver the message sincerely and demonstrate that you care about the employee or employees, this will have a knock-on effect on workplace morale. Those who survive the layoffs will have more respect for you as a manager for treating people with respect. 

Giving people bad news is never easy; every time you have to do it, the situation will be different. But whatever the situation, maintaining your credibility and the relationship you have with your employees is possible if you follow these steps.

There can be many pitfalls and potholes on the way to success, but every successful business is built on foundations of trust, open and honest communication, and respect, and each works both ways. 

I hope that today’s podcast provided you with some good tips. I’ll see you next time for the next one in the series. 

This is The People Mentor signing off.

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