This week, we asked readers if they had ever had an experience with an “insensitive” employee communication.
In view of the “business” many of us are in (HR and/or management), and considering the tough economic times of the past several years, the responses to this week’s survey were remarkably balanced – but then, we’re talking about insensitive communications, not just termination notices. Consequently, it might not be surprising that a full third of this week’s respondents said they had been on the receiving end, while only about 14% had been in a position of delivering those messages (a cynic might suggest that sometimes the authors of insensitive communications don’t necessarily view them in that light, however).
Roughly one in four said they hadn’t been a direct party to such interactions, but “I could tell you stories,” while one in five cautiously responded that they hadn’t YET been a party (one reader said, “â€¦ not yet. But I wouldn’t say it could never happen.” Roughly 7% opted for a response of “other,” largely along the lines of the reader who said, “No, and I can’t tell you stories!” – or the reader who noted, “Oh yes… we’ve been on the delivering and the receiving end; and I could tell you stories (with a grimace).” Another reader said, “Most times I wish I could get any kind of employee communication, insensitive or otherwise!” That sentiment was echoed by a reader who said, “My boss e-mails me about everything – to ask a simple question, relay confidential information, or respond to a sensitive issue!! The problem is her office is right next to mine – our doors are both open most of the time, and I can hear everything (and vice versa)â€¦ is this the fall of civilization that we cannot get up off our expanding rear-ends and have a face-to-face conversation that may take less than five minutes, rather than replying back and forth to e-mail for twenty minutes?”
Oh, but the stories – the stories! Here’s a sampling:
“A large city for which I used to work once used the occasion of an office Christmas party to announce that the work of the entire division was being outsourced and that all of its employees were being terminated.”
“One boss thought it would be a good idea to announce that layoffs were coming and would be announced on Monday morning. He asked everyone to come to work an hour early. One by one, security officers went to various desks and those folks were brought to Human Resources, who asked these folks to pack their desks and leave quietly. The rest of the workers watched and waited. You could hear a pin drop in the building.”
“At my last company, we had a layoff to cut costs – first ever. As several employees were leaving with their boxes of personal items, they had to walk around workers laying new carpet in the hallways. Later that day, senior management asked us how morale was.”
“A former co-worker was recently let go because she was not ‘philosophically aligned’ with the CEO. She had been there almost four years.”
“I was laid off via a mandatory nationwide conference call on mute. ‘Please pack up your desk and leave.'”
“The day prior to our layoffs, the ‘security’ personnel accidentally shut down access (building, network, and phones) to those employees who were to be laid off the next day. Not really communication, but close enough.”
But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who told of a time “When several employees had complained about finding the rest rooms with no paper towels or toilet paper, the property managers sent an e-mail (forwarded by Human Resources) that the source of the problem was employees removing supplies from the bathroom ‘for personal use.’ It turned out that the person who normally cleans and restocks the bathrooms in our building was actually out on maternity leave.”
Thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s survey!
(e) - Management was planning to let several managers go and everything was in place. HR scheduled the psychologist to be in one room, then the severance package was explained in the second room, and then the "benefits" room was the last stop before being escorted out of the building. All of this coordination took a long time to plan. However, someone forgot that all of the managers would be in the monthly meeting - about 150 managers in all! Since the plan was already devised, they went ahead with it anyway.
One person, called the "terminator" went into the meeting room and quietly got the manager out of the meeting. The shell shocked managers went through the rooms, one by one, but before they could be escorted out of the building, the "terminator" had to go back into the meeting and collect suit coats hanging on the backs of their chairs. This made a nice statement for the grapevine!
You can't teach common sense - or empathy...
No, but I could tell you stories.
A large city for which I used to work once used the occasion of an office Christmas party to announce that the work of the entire division was being outsourced and that all of its employees were being terminated.
(e) -- One boss thought it would be a good idea to announce that lay offs were coming and would be announced on Monday morning. He asked everyone to come to work an hour early. One by one security officers went to various desks and those folks were brought to Human Resources who asked these folks to pack their desks and leave quietly. The rest of the workers watched and waited. You could hear a pin drop in the building. By the start of business everyone who was left went to work. Words like "thankful to have a job" and "I can't believe they made us sit through that hour" and "There should have been a kinder way to tell these folks rather than march them out in front of all of their associates" were spoken in hushed tones. It was a somber time.
(b) indirectly - (f) One of my staff members emailed the Corporation Counsel a layoff notice because the deadline was getting too close. The staff member was proud of her problem solving ability and the Counsel was furious at the insensitivity - what a blow to the ego!
A couple of years ago I worked for a company with a very "didn't get it" CEO. A very hard-working co-worker could no longer deal with her unrealistic commute and very professionally announced to the CEO that she had to resign, at which time he said "You've lost your soul". He then called her supervisor and another manager into the room with he and the resigning person and said "Susan has resigned and we're better off without her". Go figureâ€¦â€¦..
My response is (f). This happened to my husband. He worked for a company that had just been bought and everyone knew that the headquarters would be moving from Cleveland OH to Wayne NJ. However, no one knew who was on the list to make the move from the office. This had been going on for some weeks. We were out to dinner with one of his contacts at the ad agency they used who started talking to us about the move and housing costs, etc.
My husband said he didn't know that he was going and his contact said "Yes, you are. [Boss' name] told us several weeks ago that you would be moving to NJ when the company made the move."
What a way to communicate this type of news - - tell the vendors but not your employees.
(a) How about this one from just last week when local government offices were closed and the county declared an emergency? (A county-declared emergency indicates that authorities do not want civilians out on the roads unless it is absolutely necessary.)
"The latest information we have regarding tropical storm Ernesto is that the storm will pass through -- County around midday on Wednesday, August 30th. Ernesto is a relatively compact system, and is not expected to dramatically intensify. The latest predictions have us experiencing between 40 to 55 mile per hour winds and significant rainfall as the system passes by tomorrow, early afternoon.
All company business operations will be running and all facilities will be open for 2nd shift operations on Tuesday, August 29th - and for both first and second shift operations on Wednesday, August 30th. Employees who feel their safety would be compromised traveling to and from work can take paid or unpaid PTO time on Tuesday evening or Wednesday.
However, based on the current weather forecast, we do not expect a closure related to tropical storm Ernesto at this time."
...oh yes... we've been on the delivering and the receiving end; and I could tell you stories (with a grimace). There's one in the office now, all of whose communications have to be monitored to upgrade their quality...and since I'm interviewing for the first of what will be three new analysts and two new clerks in my office...That characterization of the issue is a good one...'insensitive' I like that.
Bad employee communications practices? Here's one: Recently, regional management decided that when employees terminate (voluntary or otherwise), there is to be no recognition of the event -- no general email notice saying John Doe is "pursuing other interests," no verbal notification of said departure, no anything. Now, when folks leave, it's as though they have slipped into some black hole.
To make it worse, we as employees are prohibited from telling clients of employee departures unless the client specifically asks about John Doe... and our stock answer is supposed to be "John Doe no longer works here."
When leaving for the day, it has become standard practice to say to colleagues, "I hope to see you tomorrow." The standard reply of course: "And I would have to disavow any knowledge of your presence should you not return."
F. At my last company, we had a layoff to cut costs - first ever. As several employees were leaving with their boxes of personal items, they had to walk around workers laying new carpet in the hallways. Later that day, Sr. Mgmt asked us how morale was.
F - no and I can't tell you stories!
(a) yes, as a recipient.
When several employees had complained about finding the rest rooms with no paper towels or toilet paper, the property managers sent an e-mail (forwarded by Human Resources) that the source of the problem was employees removing supplies from the bathroom "for personal use". Can you imagine getting accused of stealing toilet paper? It turned out that the person who normally cleans and restocks the bathrooms in our building was actually out on maternity leave.
A. Yes. I was laid off via a mandatory nationwide conference call on mute. "Please pack up your desk and leave." Ouch.
The severance was pretty good, though, so I can't really complain.
d) Not Yet -- and wouldn't expect such insensitivity from my current employer
Answer is a). A recent insensitive comment was made to me by my boss (who has no children) while working on a voluntary project which was to be completed on free time. Keep in mind that I am a mother of three active children, 3rd, 6th, and 9th graders, all of whom are in school, sports, etc. When I did not have it completed by the imposed due date (neither did my co-workers) and I explained that I did not have the time, I was told by my boss that if "She had time to complete this, then you most certainty had time to complete this!" No offense to people without children, but besides working full time, raising children is a very time consuming job and does not allow a lot of free time, plus this was supposed to be voluntary!
(a) Yes, as a recipient. My boss e-mails me about everything - to ask a simple question, relay confidential information, or respond to a sensitive issue!! The problem is her office is right next to mine - our doors are both open most of the time and I can hear everything (and vice versa) - so she would simply have to speak my name and I could go into her office. I may be "old school", but is this the fall of civilization that we cannot get up off our expanding rear-ends and have a face-to-face conversation that may take less than five minutes, rather than replying back and forth to e-mail for twenty minutes? Most inter-office communication should not be done via e-mail. At least pick up the phone.
(d) not yet. But I wouldn't say it could never happen.
Oh yes this is definitely an A! Couple of years ago the company had a blood drive and put out a memo that anyone who donated would get the afternoon off. On the given day I went to the blood mobile to make my donation and was unable to donate because I didn't meet the minimum weigh of 110 pounds. Being the only person in the office who was denied my boss remarked "don't forget to set the alarm when you leave". I told him I suddenly felt ill and had to go home.
a) In a 1990's version of the Radio Shack email termination story, in 1993 I received notice that I had been laid off from my job (along with 70 others) via voice mail. In a twist of fate, one year later I ended up hiring the manager that laid me off, but then had to fire him 2 years later, which I did in person, in my office. We still stay in touch, via email.
This was an interesting situation that occurred at my former employer. Over my 7 years there, HR continually made enhancements to their corporate portal and pushed self-service. One morning, while in my office, I logged into the HR Portal to find that Performance Appraisals had been posted to the Portal. To my surprise, I found a Performance Appraisal that I had not previously been aware of. The supervisor had moved into a new role by that time, but I was truly dumbfounded to find a Performance Appraisal online, which was dated by approximately 3 years.
(E) other - Most times I wish I could get any kind of employee communication, insensitive or otherwise!
(c) or (f) Is this about communication or total lack thereof?
Examples of varieties of 'insensitive' communication I have seen in the
- poor communication: outright screaming at each other in the open space where all can hear
- insensitive communication: name calling & personal barbs (verbally or in written format)
- my favorite form of out-going communication: massive use of sarcasm
- my least favorite form of in-coming communication: denial of any merit in a proposed action or total ignoring of suggestion (really awful to not even be heard)
Hummm, maybe we can all learn something from this survey. I look forward to the responses.
A) - While working for *, the day prior to our layoffs, the "security" personnel accidentally shut down access (building, network, and phones) to those employees who were to be laid off the next day. Not really communication, but close enough.
I work in PA where it is an 'at will' state; employers can let you go for no specific reason. A former co-worker was recently let go because she was not 'philosophically aligned' with the CEO. She had been there almost 4 years. I think that if you're being let go, you should be given an opportunity to improve whatever is seen as shortcomings. There had been no prior warnings. Of course, if they want you out, one excuse is as good as another, right?
I had the foresight to leave when I found something better!
My former employer, a Fortune 100 financial services firm, sold our division which resulted in closing our office and laying off 75 employees, the majority who had ten or more years of service with this fine company. The executives who planned and executed this grand plan gave it the name "Project Excellence." Even a year or so later, when calling the recordkeeper for the 401(k) plan, the Representative would ask "oh, were you part of Project Excellence?"
It's been almost 4 years and it still rankles!
D - "not yet." I wish I had a good story, but I've only been working full time for 2.5 years, for a good company. I can't wait to see the results.
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