At the end of the dot-com boom, I worked as a writer for a California startup that was slowly going under.
When things got really bad, the company laid off a large percentage of the staff. How did they tell those employees the bad news? With an email.
And not just an email—a horrible email.
I wasn’t let go, so I didn’t see the infamous layoff message until later. But I remember my cubicle neighbor’s reaction when she received it. She stared at her computer for a few seconds, then looked at me with confusion showing on her face. Then she looked back at her screen.
Finally she stood up, walked into to the HR manager’s office (right next to our cubicles) and asked, “So, does this email mean we’re getting let go or not?”
When I read the email later, I understood why its readers were confused. The message was a jumbled mess of hedging and corporate double-talk. If I received that email, I wouldn’t know whether or not I had a job anymore either.
Because my company’s senior management was so inept, not only were they unable to deliver this news face-to-face (which they should have), but they weren’t even able to fully deliver it in their email. So, ironically, the email drove many of the laid-off staffers right into management’s offices with questions—where managers had to have the conversations they were clearly trying to avoid.
Have to deliver bad news? Deliver it. Fully. Candidly. Honestly. Immediately. Putting it off or trying to hide it only makes things worse later—for everyone.