AOL layoffs yield communication lessons

When 2,000 America Online employees were told their services were no longer needed, the CEO wrote a letter—and that’s when bad news got worse.

America Online, the once-behemoth Internet service provider, recently announced a 20 percent reduction in force (RIF), less euphemistically known as a major layoff. Two thousand of the company’s 10,000 employees will be looking for work in the months to come as AOL shifts its focus to online advertising efforts. This required a task that no communicator ever wants to face: the dreaded RIF communication.

Within hours of the Oct. 15 announcement, a letter that was sent from the company’s CEO, Randy Falco, to all AOL employees was published in a New York Times business blog. While many veteran communicators lambasted Falco for what they saw as corporate callousness, others simply called it par for the layoff course.

Gerard Braud is a New Orleans-based consultant who specializes in crisis communication and public relations. Upon reading Falco’s letter, his first reaction was simply, “Wow.”

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