31 October 2019

How to tell employees your business is dead

Thomas Cook, Pizza Express, Forever 21. What do these brands have in common? Yep, they all died in 2019.

Another question for you: what’s the significance of these numbers?

  • 9,000
  • 14,000
  • 32,000

These are the numbers of employees that work for each of those brands. That’s a lot of people, enough to fill a decent-sized football stadium. Most have found out that they no longer have a job, that the brand that they believed in has gone bust, that the teammates they work with every day will no longer be their colleagues. 

This is about loss. It’s personal, it’s shared and it’s real. And when that happens it’s vital that IC and HR pros handle it with care. Here are some tips to help you navigate that.


Timing is everything

So often with news like this, your business is doing everything it can to manage the message with the media. It’s crucial that IC and HR pros have a place on the top table as the business manages these issues. Media management cannot become the sole focus. 

As you know, what happens on the inside of your business shows on the outside, so think carefully about how and when you break the news to employees. Do you really want them to find out from the morning news as they travel into work? Or on a Friday afternoon when they have all weekend to worry before they can ask questions?

With meticulous planning (and it is incredibly hard), you can manage the timing. The ideal scenario is to tell employees before the media hear about it. At a minimum, tell them at the same time. Do what you can to make sure employees hear it from the business, not the media.


Communicate with empathy

This is an obvious one, right? But it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of what’s happening and for that to fuel conversations. At the heart of employees’ anger, frustration and sadness is fear. How will I feed my family? How will I pay my rent? 

Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and consider the impact of what’s happening from a financial, emotional, social and practical perspective. And also take a moment to reflect on that for yourself. It’s likely that you’ll be experiencing similar things.


Moments of certainty

In times of uncertainty, it’s important to bring some certainty where you can. That may take the form of reassurance. What can your leaders say and do to provide that sense of reassurance? Can they commit to regular updates at specific times? Would they promise to inform employees of any changes before the media find out? It’s not easy stuff but it will make a difference.


Practical support

When a business dies, the one thing that dominates every employees’ mind is ‘what about my job?’ For businesses to really show they care it’s important to put the practical support in place ASAP. What will you do to support your employees in getting another job? Maybe it’s CV writing workshops, career fairs with local recruitment agencies or additional training opportunities. Whatever it may be, make sure employees know about what’s on offer and encourage them to make the most of those opportunities.


Let it out

Finally, it’s really healthy to acknowledge the emotion of what’s happening. It’s part of the healing process. Support each other to do that. 


And on that point, remember to look after yourself. As IC and HR pros, we’re often privileged to hear sensitive and confidential information long before it gets made public. It may be something that you’ve known about for some time but haven’t been able to talk about. In that moment you’re wearing two hats: a professional dealing with the matter in hand, and an individual who will soon be made redundant. Look out for yourself and allow yourself time to heal along with your people. 

If you’re looking for some support with crisis communications and engaging employees through difficult times, get in touch and we can help you through. 

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