How to break bad news to your employees

Have to tell the troops about layoffs, an upper-level scandal, an imminent hostile takeover or divestment? Learn how to lessen the blow—and boost employee understanding.

As a former emergency department doctor, Dr. Susan O’Malley learned how to deliver bad news.

Now the owner and medical director of Madison Med Spa, O’Malley says it’s imperative to deliver your message clearly, so there is no confusion.

“Speak directly and honestly so you get your message across, but have compassion,” she says. “Don’t ever say, ‘It’s not personal; this is only business.’ It’s always personal.”

O’Malley highlights a point often made by experts in delivering bad news to employees.

A free guide from Ragan Communications and Kollective tip sheet, “13 musts for breaking bad news to your employees,” helps executives and communicators convey adverse information clearly and compassionately.

When you’re delivering bad tidings, level with your employees.

This means holding to this promise: “If we’re asked directly about something, we’re going to answer directly,” says Sean Williams, chief executive of Communications Ammo.

The guide, available as a free download, covers takeaways for successfully imparting bad news:

  • Preparation is essential. Training and rehearsal make the difference.
  • Q&A sessions can make or break morale when you’ve got bad news to share. Learn how to get it right.
  • Explain clearly. Find out why your information dump isn’t playing well in the employee ranks.
  • Learn where to direct employees who are discouraged or even stunned by your bad news. It helps to have internal partners.
  • Find out how to reach the entire organization through video.
  • Pocket that handkerchief. Empathy is appropriate—even necessary—but don’t overdo the expressions of understanding, or you’ll lose their trust.
  • Find out why you should solicit employee suggestions.
  • Make sure crisis response teams include players from internal comms.
  • Discover what can be done to boost engagements—and tap into employee knowhow to solve problems.

Don’t overload employees with information, though.

“Give people the facts,” says Chicago-based consultant Mike Lemon. “However, don’t focus too much on the financials driving a decision. Even though times may be tough, everyone knows that the top rarely suffers the way everyone else does.”

Download your free copy today.

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