Employers regularly face the awkward yet crucial challenge of communicating changes within the organization to their employee base. A longtime employee resigns. You let someone go with significant visibility in the organization. The company is about to go through some restructuring.
Too often, companies don’t publicly acknowledge such changes. This can leave employees feeling confused and unsettled, potentially compelling them to gather information through gossip and hearsay.
Don’t allow sensitive information to propagate throughout the organization by guesswork. To maintain employee morale and trust, it’s up to you as an employer to determine what details are shared, how, and when. The key is proactive communication in the workplace.
Involuntary Employee Terminations
Probably the most common example of such messaging is that surrounding an involuntary termination. Each situation is going to be completely different from the next, depending on the notoriety of the individual and their role within in the organization.
Check out our sample termination letter for tying up loose ends.
How widely changes are communicated will depend on the company’s structure. Use common sense. In the event of letting someone go below the senior management level, for example, you can probably keep that within the department — particularly if your office is more than 40 or 50 people. If you have fewer than 50 employees, everyone at the company is still aware of each other and likely knows everyone else’s name. A company-wide email could be advisable at smaller organizations.
Here’s an example of an email a Justworks manager sent to their whole department, in light of an employee’s unanticipated departure:
In the interest of transparency and openness, I wanted to let you all know that today was [Employee]’s last day at [Company]. I think it's better for you to hear it from me directly than from others. And while I obviously cannot discuss the reasons or details for their departure, I don't think I could write this email without mentioning how much their presence will be missed around the office.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out and I'll do my best to answer them.
This manager’s email is personal and sentimental in a way that acknowledges the suddenness of the news, but is still totally opaque as to the reason for termination. It could have been due to poor performance, or that the employee left for personal reasons. The language of the email focuses on the employee’s human presence in the office, rather than their value as a “human resource.”
Tone aside, the most important thing is that you acknowledge the termination. Silence is not golden. Not addressing a departure can leave employees wondering, “If I resigned, or was fired, would anyone care?”
Related Article: 20 Easy Ways to Improve Communication in the Workplace
Another reason that companies may say nothing in regards to a termination is that it’s a key performer, or someone who has been with the company since the early days. Not wanting to trigger a mass exodus, employers sweep it under the rug. This is a terrible idea, as it only validates that maybe something bigger is wrong. Turnover is natural, and good communication in the workplace can go a long way to making feel that way to your team.
Restructuring and Targeted Layoffs
Organizational redesign is going to look wildly different at a company of fewer than 300 employees than at a multinational giant like Ogilvy or Microsoft. At a smaller company, without the obligation to publicly update your shareholders, you have a greater range of control as to what is shared and what details are kept behind closed doors. Use that to your advantage!
The bigger deal you make of it, the bigger deal your staff will take it. No communication on the matter, however, doesn’t equate to no big deal. That misguided approach takes the control squarely out of your hands, and throws it to the winds of uninformed speculation.
Related Article: 10 Affordable Ways To Improve Team Morale at Your Company
Say you’re revamping your sales strategy, laying off a few cold-callers in favor of some more experienced closers, and not changing a thing about operations. Even if the ops team doesn’t work with sales, they’re going to take note that six bodies are suddenly missing — and maybe one of them was someone’s lunch buddy. Don’t let that lunch buddy’s lone interpretation of the decision become the company line when they tell their other coworkers their own, naturally gloomy side of the story.
You don’t have to outline the five-year plan. But unaffected departments will naturally wonder how your approach to this particular change might inform how you approach a change to their own department down the line. If nothing else, they’ll be comforted to know that today’s choice was calculated and carefully considered.
In short, when addressing and acknowledging uncomfortable events, exhibit empathy and imagine the natural human curiosities of your employees. What will they wonder about, and what are their potential fears? How does it affect them? Share details that answer that question, and instill confidence in the leadership team.
Make sure your managers are trained on what details to share, and how to set the tone in order to move forward productively. It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to close your communications on the subject with an invitation like this one: “Any questions? Please feel free to approach HR or your manager.” Allowing employees to feel heard and recognized goes a long way toward boosting employee morale.