Use These Five W’s of Delivering Bad News to Your Employees

A manager has to handle many aspects related to his subordinates but the one he dreads the most is delivering any kind of bad news to them. Such bad news can include anything from dismissal of an employee, salary cut to negative feedback. The manager likes it or not, he has to take the responsibility in his hands and become the carrier of bad news. But if you know about delivering bad news in a way that has less impact on the receiver then know that you are a successful manager. The most important aspect of delivering bad news is taking into consideration the Five W’s, GetVoip states.

The Five W’s Chain of Delivering Bad News

These are the basic five W’s of grammar that we take into consideration. Typically it is- What, Where, Who, Why, When.


Before delivering bad news to the employee, first be clear about what news you are going to deliver. If an employee expecting promotion has to be denied the same, do it without adding any butter to the news. We mean to say that do not give any false hopes with the message.

Say – “I know you were expecting a promotion but I am really sorry this time your performance is not up to the mark. Unfortunately, you are not eligible for a promotion this time.”

Do not say – “You are not eligible for a promotion this time but there is still a hope.”


Now that you know what you have to say, decide where you will deliver the news. Which will be a suitable place if you are giving feedback to a group of employees? If it has to be given to a single subordinate where can you do the same? Before passing on the news, decide whether you want to do it on a one-on-one basis, in a cubicle, or through an e-mail or phone call. Remember, people can get better clarity about the tone of the delivery through a conversation in person rather than an e-mail. Pass on the news preferably in the physical presence of the receiver.

Say – “Meet me in my cabin after lunch. We have to discuss something important.”

Do not say – “I will drop an e-mail today. Please check it after lunch.”


The most important W of this chain is ‘Who’. You as a manager should be willing to take the responsibility of delivering bad news to your employee. Even more, as we mentioned above do it in person and not in the presence of a third person. Doing so can make the employee feel even worse. Passing on this kind of news is a sensitive thing and there is no need for a third party not involved in the news to be present. So as the bearer of the news take the responsibility of delivering it and also of keeping extra people away from the venue.

Moreover, do not even deliver this news through someone else. As a responsible manager you certainly do not want to spread a gossip-wine, do you? So, it is ‘You’ when it comes to ‘Who’.

Say – “Meet me after lunch as I have to discuss some issues with you.”

Do not say – “I have passed on an important message to your colleague. He will pass on the same to you.”


As a manager, you know that your employee will surely ask about the reason for the decision. So, be prepared for it right from the beginning. Do not sugar-coat your reason as it may hinder the progress of your subordinate. If he knows the correct reason, he can even work harder next time. But if you sugar-coat the reason, your employee will never be able to take proper steps towards progress.

Also, let your employee know that this decision won’t change your relations with him. He can still come to you for any kind of guidance or suggestions. This will give him the assurance that the business decision has not affected your personal bond, and he will be able to accept the negative news maturely.

Say – “This time we won’t be giving you a salary hike or bonus because your performance was not at par.”

Do not say – “I am afraid to reveal the reason that it is decided by the management that you are not eligible for a salary hike or bonus this time.”


The last W but not the least as it holds equal importance in this chain of W’s. It is not a wrong statement that ‘Perfect timing is the most important factor’. Avoid passing on the news first thing in the morning. According to studies, people’s stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure levels are comparatively raised in the morning, Get Voip’s infographic shows. Also, when people arrive at work in the morning they need at least some time to settle in the flow of things.

Not only this, you have to take into consideration the employee’s personal life too. We do not mean that you should dig down on their personal life like a sleuth; or wait until forever to deliver the news. But if you know that he is passing through any crucial phase during that time in his personal life, and is mentally weak or vulnerable; then wait if possible.

Also, discussing the issue over a cup of coffee is comparatively informal and easy rather than doing it just after a presentation or meeting.

Say – “Meet me after lunch or in the evening today as we have to discuss something important.”

Do not say – “Meet me as soon as you reach office tomorrow morning. We have to discuss something important.”

Well, you certainly want to be the manager people respect. Even when you are the same person delivering bad news at times. For this, you have to master the process of making bad news sound less rude and harsh, even if it’s the naked truth. Master these Five W’s and the process of delivering bad news to your employees will definitely become an easier one.


Anna Verasai
Anna Versai is a Team Writer at The HR Digest; she covers topics related to Recruitment, Workplace Culture, Interview Tips, Employee Benefits, HR News and HR Leadership. She also writes for Technowize, providing her views on the Upcoming Technology, Product Reviews, and the latest apps and softwares.

Similar Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.