How to give employees unwelcome news
October 25, 2014 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Half of my team makes widgets and half of my team makes sprockets. Next week, I need to tell my widget-making employees that we are cutting back on widget production and ramping up sprocket production -- they will start making sprockets 25-50% of the time. How do I make this unwelcome (but needed) change in job responsibilities suck less for my team?

Widgets haven't been selling very well (through no fault of my team), so the strategic decision has been made to focus more on sprockets. (The decision was made above me, but I agree with it in theory.)

This will be unwelcome news because those employees were hired specifically to make widgets (because of their particular interest in widgets) and they have their roles/identities tied up with that. (They introduce themselves as "I make widgets," not "I work in the widget and sprocket manufacturing group.")

Managers, any best practices for how to share this news? Employees, any things you wish your managers had done better in this situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would first deliver the news that widget manufacture is unexpectedly ramping down, and then present management's plan to save jobs by retraining people for sprockets rather than lay them off. If your company's plan represents an industry wide trend, your people should be glad to be retrained in sprockets to have the additional skill.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:48 PM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

What not to do: I once had a CEO announce a significant layoff and make it all about him -- how it made him feel, how it affected him, how he was confident things would work out for him. Please don't do this. Be empathetic to your employees' frustration.

If people already know that sales have been going down for widgets, they may not be surprised by this news. But be prepared for a few people to start looking for other jobs immediately, or at the very least, become bitter and resentful. One thing my boss did with me in a somewhat similar situation was talk to me individually about what parts of my job I like and don't like and how we could eventually work toward getting me back to doing things I actually enjoy, even if it's just a few small things. You may not be able to do much in this regard, but employees will appreciate your effort and willingness to listen.
posted by Librarypt at 4:40 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a manager as well as an employee that frequently has to get unexpected news, then relay it to my team.

I'd focus as fingersandtoes suggested on this as a new opportunity for retraining and professional development in sprocket production, rather than losing the chance to make widgets. There are a lot of great positives to this news, beginning with:

1) they still have jobs
2) they're getting an opportunity for additional training in their overall industry, which doubles their specialty
3) the team can be even more cohesive (everyone has sprocket production as a common bonding theme)., etc.

I would NOT focus on the fact that the company is electing not to lay them off, that can remain unsaid. The time to do this is soon, before this is in the company rumor-mill. I'd also encourage you to do it in a 1:1 setting, but schedule them as quickly as possible to make sure no one gets the news second hand. If your team is of a size that that is not possible, then get them together for a meeting with just the sprocket folks.

Share the news and be as candid and open with them as possible. The focus is on the team and on the company - avoid talking about your feelings and your reaction except inasmuch as it relates to how you will support them. Acknowledge this is a big sea-change and will require effort on their parts. Offer each of them the opportunity to share any questions or comments they might have and LISTEN. Then as you close the meeting suggest they meet with you 1:1 if, over the next days or weeks they have further questions or things they want to share with you.
posted by arnicae at 4:52 PM on October 25, 2014

As your employee, I would want you to do everything in your power to make my transition from widgets to widgets-and-sprockets as easy and painless as possible.

Software: If the widget-makers need sprocket-based software, buy them the software and provide training on how to use it. Depending on how your work is scheduled, allocate time for training in workers' schedules - don't expect them to fit the training in where they can between other work.

Processes: If there isn't already documentation on how your team makes sprockets, it needs to be created. Again, allocate time for the widget-makers to review the documentation before they start making sprockets. Someone on the sprocket side needs to be available to answer any questions.

Trial runs: The first few times a widget-maker makes a sprocket, s/he should work alongside a sprocketeer who can shadow and be available for questions.

You've guessed already that the widget-makers will probably be upset that their job duties are changing. If they ask for information, provide it. Make info as public as possible; don't tell employee X something that you haven't told the entire team. Don't hold out false hope that this is only for a little while; make sure they know that the days of full-time widgeting are over, and from now on it's widgets and sprockets. And be prepared for folks to give notice and leave.

(On preview, seconding arnicae - be as available to your employees as you can.)
posted by Nyakasikana at 4:54 PM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


I want to begin by telling all of you how thankful I am for the excellent work you have done producing widgets, which I believe are among some of the very finest widgets to be found anywhere, thanks to your professionalism and hard work. I am proud of you, and thank you for the excellence you bring to your work, day after day.

Having said that, Our Company is making a course correction. As market factors have shifted, the demand has grown for sprockets, a demand which has outpaced the demand for widgets. While I understand that this is disappointing news, Our Company will be diverting our efforts towards increased production of sprockets, and I am thankful for the foresight of Our Company in identifying this emerging market.

To be clear, this was a market-based decision, and not one based on quality of work. In fact, we believe that you, as a group, have demonstrated such effectiveness in your work with Our Company that you will be able to make the transition to sprocket production in short order. We want to keep as many of you employed and part of the team as possible, and it is my personal belief that you can and will rise to the challenge of this important transition.

As always, if you have any questions, I hope you will seek me out. I will keep you up-to-date on the most current information that I have. Thank you for your hard work, innovative spirit, and commitment as we make this adjustment.

Again, thank you for all that you do. Hang in there, and keep up the good work.
posted by 4ster at 5:43 PM on October 25, 2014 [17 favorites]

> What not to do: I once had a CEO announce a significant layoff and make it all about him -- how it made him feel, how it affected him, how he was confident things would work out for him. Please don't do this. Be empathetic to your employees' frustration.

Heartily seconded. And another thing to avoid is too much positivity. Obviously you don't want to say "This sucks and you all are going to hate it and you should probably start looking for another job," but in an effort to avoid bad feelings bosses frequently try to present bad news as rah-rah good news that they expect (or pretend to expect) everyone to feel great about. Don't do that. I think 4ster's proposed speech is excellent; it focuses the rah-rah stuff on the employees, not the change, and it doesn't pretend the change is wonderful, just says "it is what it is and we'll help you adapt." When I was a corporate employee, that's the kind of thing I wanted to hear, not bullshit corporate cheerleading.
posted by languagehat at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Will just some of the wigdeteers be completely converted to sprocketing, or will all of the widgeteers now have two skills?

The widget-to-sprocket transition might make a difference to some but not all of your team, in which case you could take the willing and fully convert them -- but if everyone loves widgets, then maybe the higher expense of re-training more people might be worth it if they can continue to make widgets part of the time and also do sprockets the rest of the time.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:27 AM on October 28, 2014

« Older Fraught discussion of my sexual history with...   |   $trategies to get people to pay up? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.