November 12, 2015
Is it possible to sack thousands of employees and not look like a monster? What’s the right way of talking about layoffs?
Most bosses will tell you (the good ones at least), that the hardest thing they have to do in the workplace is telling employees they no longer have a job. Then, if the job losses are big enough, telling the whole world. It’s an often unavoidable reality of doing business, but you’ll get little sympathy when everyone is looking to shoot the messenger.
The two most important principles for doing it well?
- Don’t bury the message.
- Show appropriate compassion.
In auditing the language of some of the biggest corporations in the world, we found common traps in how many of them communicated about large layoffs. Their language is either too vague, trying to spin a sad event with positive language, or plain heartless. Audiences see concealing the real story through language, trying to sell the negative as a dubious positive, or anything that hints at deemphasizing the issue as dishonest. It’s making a bad situation worse.
Instead, businesses need to be clear and straightforward when talking about layoffs—much like tearing off a Band-Aid. Everyone knows what’s really going on here. Own up to it. And when you do, make it clear that this is a regrettable event. In a world where your audience sees heartless corporations everywhere, you need to make it clear that human costs are understood.
On a scientific scale of straightforward & compassionate to heartless & vague, here’s the good and bad of these types of announcements: