Communicating Bad News to Employees
Bad news is a fact of life for everyone - both individuals and organizations. We read about businesses facing serious challenges every day, and while the media attention is typically short lived, ramifications of business-critical news can be long lasting. Luckily, communicators have refined best practices in “incident management” and can guide companies and individuals through these storms successfully.
As internal communicators, we advocate for employees to be part of these conversations, too. We believe communicating with employees during times of struggle is equally as important as communicating externally with shareholders, customers and the media.
Whether your company is facing the departure of a top executive, lower-than-expected earnings or a product failure, make sure employees are part of the conversation. Here are some best practices on communicating with employees during times of hardship and change:
Offer information freely
- When companies have bad news to share, it’s often advised to release it all at once rather than piece by piece, and the same best practice applies to internal communications. Controlling the narrative is much more effective than reacting to it, and offering employees enough information so they understand the situation and feel empowered to help is productive for everyone.
- When sharing information, make sure to be transparent and honest. Although some details are restricted or confidential, do your best to provide important context around what is happening and anticipated next steps. Employees can sense when their leaders are holding back, which can create suspicion and doubt. Left untreated, employee engagement and company culture could suffer.
- In addition to ensuring that employees understand the what in a crisis, how they receive the information is just as critical. Being empathetic to employees’ concerns and sensitive in how and when you share information will build trust and good will, and help to further humanize leaders.
Trust your employees, and treat them with respect
- Above all else, trust employees and treat them with the respect they deserve. Employees are a company’s most valuable asset. They are trusted to create products, define strategy, sell to customers and advocate for your brand. Keeping them in the know gives them a stake in the business, builds loyalty and drives ongoing engagement.