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How to Deliver Bad News to Employees

written by: Eduard Ezeanu•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 8/30/2010

Delivering bad news is one of those actions most individuals and organizations struggle with. It’s not something we’re comfortable with; it’s not something we are educated to do effectively. In this article, discover the most important ideas for successfully delivering bad news to an employee.

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    How to Deliver Bad News to Employees

    bad news Often, managers or organizations may find themselves in the situation of needing to deliver bad news to employees; news such as: salary cuts, contract terminations or proposal rejections. In these kinds of situations, a lot depends on the way the news is delivered.

    It is common for managers and organizations to ineffectively manage the delivery of bad news, by delaying its delivery a long time, aborting it, doing it in a passive or aggressive manner, or closing the communication after the news has been delivered.

    The following ideas are the key methods to deliver bad news to employees and get the best results.

    1. Do it privately and individually. There is a rule in giving effective feedback which states to give the positive feedback in public, and the negative one in private. It applies with giving bad news as well. Even more, it’s best to deliver bad news to each employee individually, instead of using mass communication. This shows real concern for employees and is a much more human approach.

    2. Don’t jump right into it. Bad news typically has a strong emotional impact on the receiver. You can show that you care about them and spare them some of the emotional impact by getting into the bad news slowly or by alternating it with good news through the sandwich technique. Let the employee know you have some bad news for them, explain the context a bit, then move to telling them the news. Don’t delay the delivery too long, but don’t do it abruptly either.

    3. Focus on the facts. Bad news is received the best when it states the facts, rather than subjective interpretations of them. Let’s say you’re giving an employee the news that he won’t receive his salary bonus this month. Chances are he will take it much better if you explain it by means of the fact he didn’t achieve his established target for the month, than by the means of your subjective opinion that he is a bad performer.

    4. Do not dramatize. It’s very tempting when we deliver bad news to make it sound worse than it really is. We humans tend to think a lot in black and white and to exaggerate things. This is why it’s important when you deliver bad news to consciously try and make sure that you don’t dramatize it. In particular, avoid general words like “always” or “nobody” and presenting distorted numbers or facts.

    5. Be willing to listen and give details. Bad news is best accepted when its delivery turns into a constructive discussion. After you deliver bad news, do not end the conversation. Give the other person a chance to state their opinions or ask questions. Listen to them if they state their opinions, answer them and give required details if they ask questions. By showing that you are open and supporting, you will significantly diminish the negative effect bad news has on employees and consequently on you.

    Delivering bad news in an effective way is basically a people skill. Like most people skills, it can be learned by consciously applying methods such as the ones presented above. As you practice them, delivering bad news gradually gets easier and creates better outcomes.

    Image credit: Andy Newson /