The findings of a study into organizational downsizing indicate the types of communication that employees prefer during troubled times. The research was valuable because few studies have investigated the perspective of those affected while they are in the midst of turmoil. The feedback from employees affected from downsizing program communication contains some valuable lessons.
Downsizing is the HR euphemism for planned, intended reduction in personnel in an organization. Retrenchments take place, the organization shrinks and is restructured. The purpose is to change processes and decrease size to improve efficiency and therefore reduce costs.
The study reported on the reactions of people who had survived retrenchments in a downsizing organization, in this case a large US multinational employing 50,000 people. The downsizing operation eliminated the jobs of more than 5,000 employees.
Rumors were rife. When employees went on breaks, it was not unusual to find over 30 people in the staff area talking about the downsizing. “We wasted more than 100 years of salary in all the time that was spent talking about what was going to happen. No one could do any work.” You can read further in my article, “How to counter rumors on the grapevine,” about effective communication to deal with rumors that invariably circulate during downsizing programs.
Survivors expressed the need for communication that would help them work through the many ambiguities that suddenly confronted them in doing their work. It was clear that downsizing program communication is vital for affected employees.
Focus groups with a sample of surviving employees indicated that:
These lessons would help organizations to communicate better under pressure – to prepare downsizing program communication ahead of time to use for reference.
Giving bad news at work is a stressful experience, and managers are often under-prepared for this challenging task. One way to address the problem is to conduct organizational bad news training for managers. German research in 2016 found that delivery of bad news at work can be enhanced with the help of training to reduce distress for both the messenger and the recipient. Such training also significantly reduces negative responses of the layoff ‘victims’ after the layoff. Nevertheless, giving bad news will always be a challenging task, despite preparation for doing so. Overall, it is worthwhile to provide managers with organizational bad news training in order to promote professional and fair bad news conversations at work.
In addition, Glassdoor published an article in 2020, which offers three types of scripts that organizations could use when they layoff staff: “Delivering Bad News? 3 Go-To Layoff Scripts to Ease the Blow.” Similar article published by HR Dive in 2021: “How to deliver layoff news compassionately.”
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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