the News is Bad
How to Tell Your Employees and Handle Your
Own Survivors’ Guilt
by Jean Palmer Heck
2012 | Layoffs, salary reductions, plant closings—it’s
happening in every economic sector, both locally and globally. Not
a day has gone by in recent years without dire financial news. The
employees whose jobs are eliminated suffer. So, too, do those who
have to deliver the news.
When bad news
happens, you are the person who has to tell your employees. It may
not be what you envisioned when you began your career, but as boss,
it’s your responsibility. How do you deliver the bad news
with tact, concern and honesty? How do you ease tensions among employees
who remain after a downsizing takes place? How do you keep your
own spirit intact when the impact of what you say and how you say
it will have long-term effects?
issue often overlooked is the long-term psychological impact
on the person who delivers bad news.
I have spoken
with hundreds of business people over the past three years about
this topic. They shared their mistakes and advice in Tough Talks
in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate
Employees & Stay Sane.
Biggest Mistake: Procrastination
Wilson, president of Campus Classics, a 20-year-old American business
specialising in custom-embroidered and silk-screened apparel, faced
the inevitable conversation about layoffs with trepidation. Sales
in December, the most lucrative time in her business, were not as
high as anticipated. She needed to make cuts in her workforce to
account for the loss in revenue. “It was one of the worst
things I’ve had to do as co-owner of this company,”
says Wilson. “I value my employees. This was extremely hard
first difficult conversation I had to have was with myself,”
Wilson adds. “I needed to come to grips with the fact that
the financial results were not changing. The news was bad. As much
as I cared for the workers, my responsibility was to ensure the
financial integrity of the company as a whole.” Wilson, like
many other business owners and managers, put off announcing the
news. She waited two long weeks after she made her decision. “A
mistake,” she says.
The delay in
announcing the news didn’t make her task any easier. Her procrastination
resulted in sleepless nights, heart palpitations, headaches and
Advice: Process your Pain
issue often overlooked is the long-term psychological impact on
the person who delivers bad news. It takes a toll on everyone, not
just the recipient. Dr. Maria Pozo Humphreys, a psychologist with
international clientele, advises bosses to seek support during and
after major changes at work. A trusted friend, colleague, or spouse
can provide a non-judgmental sounding board.
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Palmer Heck is an international communications advisor,
author and speaker who has spent 30 years working with worldwide
newsmakers and senior executives from 33 countries. As a consultant
for numerous corporations, including Eli Lilly, Verizon, and
Praxair, Heck has spoken to hundreds of audiences and trains
all levels of management. Heck is the author of The Tough
Talks™ Series, available at www.Real-Impact.com.