Bad News Memo or E-mail: Reassuring Staff After Layoffs

On the TV show "The Apprentice," Donald Trump seemed to relish announcing "You're fired" to losing contestants. But most employers recoil from having to tell employees that they will be "downsized." To make a difficult job easier, managers sometimes use plain language, euphemisms, and jargon to avoid bluntly announcing that someone has been fired or laid off. In fact, cutbacks have generated new words like "rightsizing" and "re-engineering."

Regardless of the language, today's economic tailspin forces organizations to tell employees that they will be losing their jobs by emphasizing what is best for the company. At e-Bay, 1,500 employees lost their jobs in a program of "employee simplification." At Yahoo the CEO explained layoffs as a way for the company to "become more fit."

No matter how you look at it, people are worried about losing their jobs, and those who remain are worried about whether the company will stay in business.

Experts differ on how to reveal possible workforce reductions. Should managers disclose the news indirectly and quietly? Or should they use the direct approach and announce loudly that they are taking forceful action to strengthen the organization in a dour economy? Some say that executives should use bland language to minimize the public relations fallout from mass firings. Vague explanations and even corporate jargon may be appropriate to reduce the negative effect on remaining employees and on recruiting new employees when the economy rebounds. Opaque language and euphemisms may lessen the impact of layoffs.

Assume you work in the human resource department of BrightWave Technology, a high-tech firm that has decided to lay off 10 percent of its workforce to maintain profitability. Although every department has participated in cost-cutting measures, expenses continue to mount, and sales are not where they should be.

Your boss, Shirley Schmidt, has asked you to draft an e-mail that goes to the staff whose jobs are untouched by the layoffs. The goal is to assure key employees that management is in control of the situation. You need to emphasize that BrightWave maintains a strong strategic vision, and that management is convinced of the firm's rosy future in the tech industry. Still, layoffs are necessary to make the company more financially stable. Ever mindful of its people, BrightWave is taking all possible measures to assist those who have lost their jobs. These reductions will help make the firm stronger, says Schmidt.

Your Task. Draft an e-mail from Shirley Schmidt, director, Employee Relations, BrightWave Technology. In addressing remaining employees, your message should explain the bad news and strive to preserve employee morale. Decide whether to use the direct or indirect approach.

Source: Partially based on Yen, Y. (2008, November 11). Laid off? No, you've been 'simplified.'

Possible Solution

Dear Employees:

As the economic downturn continues, all businesses are feeling the impact. High tech is no exception.

BrightWave Technology continues to be a leader in the industry, and our management team is optimistic about the firm's future. With a strong strategic plan in place for our long-term viability, BrightWave is determined to weather this recession.

Although we have worked internally to reduce expenses, our costs are still too high. To remain fiscally sound, we must implement cost improvement plans that will affect 10 percent of the workforce. These reductions will make BrightWave more flexible to respond to marketplace forces beyond our control, thereby strengthening our overall position. Please be assured that those employees affected by these changes will be assisted in every way possible to minimize the impact.

As we move forward in these difficult times, we are grateful to our dedicated staff and appreciate that you are a vital element to the continuing success of BrightWave.


Shirley Schmidt, Director

Employee Relations

close window