How does it feel to deliver bad news at work?

Published:  17 December, 2012

Workplace experts Acas has launched new video guidance to help employees who have to deliver news of redundancies.

‘Envoy’ is the term used to describe the person – usually a line manager or HR manager – who delivers the news. It’s a role that can last weeks or months, from delivering the initial announcement to providing counselling and offering advice and support to colleagues at risk of losing their jobs.

The new video, Breaking bad news at work – the role of the redundancy envoy, offers employers practical advice to help managers deal with the emotions, tensions and difficult decisions of downsizing.

It includes an interview with Dr Ian Ashman from the Institute for Research into Organisation, Work and Employment at the University of Central Lancashire’s Business School. He studied the experiences of envoys, or tellers as they are also called, across the public and private sectors for Acas.

Dr Ashman said: “The Acas guidance helps employers recognise the role that line managers have in dealing with these sensitive situations. If we look after the managers, the managers will take better care of those on the receiving end of bad news. And if those who lose their jobs are treated with dignity and respect, then those who remain are more likely to feel engaged with the organisation going forward.”

Acas senior guidance editor Adrian Wakeling said: “Managing the emotions of everyone involved has to be a real priority for the organisation. You can have all the plans, policies and procedures in the world but when it comes to that face to face meeting, what you need most is the kind of emotional intelligence that only comes with the right training or experience.”

Research shows that many first-time tellers are often unprepared for the range of emotions they experience and the psychological impact they have on them.

Acas advises:

  • Provide the right training and mentoring to help tellers cope with the demands of letting people go;
  • Think carefully about who should break the news and involve them early on in the downsizing – it will make those having to break the bad news more understanding and better communicators;
  • The closer the relationship the teller has with those facing redundancy, the more difficult the process is for them, as they still have to work with those affected for some time to come;

Ideally, a teller should have previous experience and at the very least should be supported in how best to deal with the situation, including being given a thorough briefing on why redundancy or redeployment is necessary.

Further support and guidance on the role of the teller can be downloaded free from the Acas website. You can also download the free advisory booklet on redundancy handling, as well as other free advice and guidance on redundancy and restructuring, having difficult conversations and managing change.

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