Every once in a while, a leader or a manager is tasked with the most dreaded task: deliver bad news to employees. Maybe your company is furloughing employees. Or it is considering mass layoffs. Or you have an employee who isn’t likely to be promoted anytime soon.
Giving bad news to employees is one of the most crucial roles you play as a manager. For most managers, it’s also one of their least favorite tasks. Delivering bad news can be quite unpleasant – especially when you’re a caring person and you’d like to soften the blow. And when it’s time to deliver the unpleasant news, you try to rip off the band-aid as slowly as possible. That’s a wrong approach, according to research by professors at the University of South Alabama and Brigham Young University. In fact, the wrong way to deliver bad news is by beating around the bush.
Your employees want to hear it straight. A buffer isn’t likely to make the bad news any easier to take. They prefer clarity and directness over someone spinning the truth.
Tips to deliver bad news
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when delivering bad news to employees:
Avoid corporate jargon
This is not the right time to use jargon like “right-sizing.” Your employee is losing their job, it’s in no way a right-size moment for them.
Your employees will be more willing to accept an unfavorable outcome if they believe the reasoning was fair. Begin with the news, and then share the reason behind it.
Let the employee know that you’re sympathetic of their situation. You don’t need to be a psychologist, but a simple “I’m sorry to tell you this” or “I’m sorry about the situation” can prove to be incredibly useful.
The bad news isn’t the end of the world. If you have a plan to address or resolve the situation, do it. It can be a relief to hear word of sympathy in hard time.
Don’t give false hopes or make the situation seem better than it actually is. Stand by your assessment and tell the employee what you think. That said, don’t fall into the “but why” conversation when you’re delivering bad news.
Make sure you deliver bad news in a place that is private and secure. This would allow the employee to process what is being said and minimize embarrassment or fear that comes from the feeling of being pried upon. At the same time, think about your own safety.
Sometimes, the news you deliver isn’t your fault. But when the person hears it, they will partially dump all of their anger or frustration on you. You’ll be less stressed about delivering the news to your employees if you separate yourself from the message.