How to Deliver Bad News in the Best Way Possible to Your Employees

PayScale’s 2015 Compensation Best Practices Report indicated that the biggest concern of most HR pros is losing their top employees. This can make delivering “bad news” even more worrisome. Find out how to do this in the best way possible to avoid losing good people.

One of the banes of most managers’ existence is when they have to deliver bad news to their employees. I, personally, have never taken pleasure in terminating an employee, announcing a layoff or discussing poor job performance. It has never gotten easier no matter how long I have worked in HR. These conversations remain one of the hardest parts of my job. They are also the most important because they represent pivotal points in an employee’s life or career. This fact has stuck with me throughout the years each time I had to collect myself for that “uncomfortable” conversation with an employee.

Keep your conversations private

As I mentioned, conversations like these are not easy for either party. Many times sensitive information is discussed like the outcome of a sexual harassment or workplace investigation. Maybe a manager is having a performance management discussion or sharing with an employee why they didn’t get the promotion they wanted. These conversations need to take place in private and behind closed doors not out on the manufacturing floor or among the call center cubicles. We need to respect employees and their privacy.

Same holds true for the conversations themselves. Most of us have received a bad review, been fired or laid off from a job. These are private and confidential conversations that should be kept that way. If you don’t, your boss might be having his/her own uncomfortable conversation with you about workplace conduct and confidentiality.

Prepare your script and/or talking points 

While I don’t suggest reading verbiage directly from a series of notes, I do recommend planning out your conversation and outlining the important points you want to make. Also, prepare for any potential questions or concerns that you might encounter with an employee.

For example, when conducting involuntary terminations, you should have an exit packet for the employee that provides information on benefits termination, COBRA information, last paycheck information and vacation payout dates. There are common questions that you encounter and should be prepared for if and when you have to talk to an employee about the harsh reality that their employment is ending.

Have compassion 

Regardless of the situation, always treat your employees with compassion and dignity. While you might have an understanding of their work life, you don’t know the full picture about their life challenges, pressures and responsibilities they might be facing whether personal, family oriented or financial.

Give your employee a moment to prepare him or herself before asking them to return to the cubicle or exit the building. Compassion isn’t just about keeping a box of Kleenex. It means waiting until after work to box up the employee’s belongings and mailing them to their home address. It is about treating them with compassion and humility.
Delivering bad news is a job responsibility of a manager, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate your organizational values and leadership in action. It’s tough to be front and center to a hard day in someone’s life, but by living with humility and showing generosity of spirit, you can cushion the blow of bad news for the employee not to mention yourself.

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