Vollrath Associates


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Five approaches for delivering bad news to employees

August 9, 2013

Even though the economy is in recovery, at some point, almost every top executive will have to deliver bad news: disappointing earnings, spending cuts, or – worst of all – layoffs.


While there is no real “good” way to share this type of news, there are ways to minimize the blow for both the sender and the receiver.


Here are five.


1. Share the bad news all at once. Few things weaken morale more than bad news released little by little. Bad news travels fast. If it comes in waves, rumors are likely to spread, causing employees to both lose hope and their trust in upper management.


Be honest. Get all the information out at once to retain credibility and restore confidence.


2. Don’t let employees dwell on disappointment. Allow employees time to absorb the bad, but quickly give them ways to move on. In your communications, you can achieve this by encouraging employees to act. Rather than making them feel like part of the problem, empower them to help fix it.


3. Make it clear that this is about them, not you. Out of the gate, do not tell your employees how difficult this decision is for you. Rather, clearly acknowledge their pain, their anger at bearing the brunt of a difficult transition, or the unfairness of having to cope with a changing market.


4. Focus on what the audience wants to hear. Understanding your audience is the most important aspect of creating your communications. It can be tempting to focus your comments on what you want to say, but it is essential that you address the situation from the viewpoint of your employee.



5. At all costs, don’t be cliché. While clichés should always be used sparingly, they are deadly when delivering bad news. We’ve all heard them, “Once one door closes, another opens,” or, “Things seem darkest before the dawn.” Even when delivered with the best of intentions, clichés convey that your message is somehow canned and not authentic. Instead, focus on being genuine and tapping into your employees’ emotions.


Article adapted from the RaganReport’s August 2013 article, “5 ways to deliver bad news to employees,” by Jeff Porro.