Today, Yahoo began the layoff of 1,500 workers. While it’s nothing new that Yahoo is laying off folks (they announced it last month), it is significant how the news of the layoffs are being played out in the blogosphere and Twittersphere.
Bloggers all over the country began discussion threads on Yahoo’s reduction in force…in laymen’s terms…a layoff. They published internal documents on how cuts should be broken to employees. One blog even offered live coverage of the layoffs that included up-to-the-minute employee posts that detailed who was getting laid off and what their severance package was rumored to look like. Twitter was even worse – employees posted thousands of messages announcing they were fired. The big question: Why such a public display of what should be a personal, private matter? In today’s digital age, it can be hard to control the message but that’s not what this is about. It seems the real reason behind the online venting was fear, anger and a need to know that others were in the same boat. And the reason behind the bad sentiment? Yahoo failed to effectively communicate the downsizing to its employees.
The harsh reality of our current crisis is that layoffs are inevitable. But what many companies overlook – including Yahoo – is the importance of an effective communications strategy in a time of crisis. Emotions run high during layoffs and, as we are seeing firsthand with Yahoo, so does gossiping and guessing. Thorough communication with all involved parties, including the media, is the number one defense against the inevitable rumors that spread when you downsize. The two keys to developing effective messages in a layoff are being complete and being consistent.
To keep it simple, communication tactics should be managed in three tiers.
- Affected Employees: This should be common sense, but employees being laid off should hear the news first and in person if possible. With Yahoo, the announcement was made a full month before anything happened which made employees nervous, scared and on edge. Be as thorough and complete as possible – and remember: the more comprehensive you are, the less you are leaving to the imagination.
- Retained Employees: “Unaffected employees” is an oft used but rarely relevant term. The reality is everyone is affected in some way by layoffs, even if they keep their jobs. As soon as it is reasonably possible, retained employees must be notified of the RIF in a group or team meeting. Review the situation, be prepared to answer questions, and provide resources for follow-up questions and concerns.
- Media: If the news is expected to become public or if you’re a publicly traded company, it’s important you tell the media before someone else does. Prepare an external-facing statement that is consistent with the information you provided internally. By proactively releasing a statement to appropriate media parties, you are effectively controlling the message and maintaining your company’s professional reputation.
Given how connected today’s employees are, some things might end up on Twitter or float around the blogosphere. But if you communicate early, communicate often and communicate the compassion you have for your employees in these difficult times, you will better manage expectations, messaging and position your organization for future success.