Seven Strategies for Delivering Bad News to Employees

This is a guest post from the OMNIA Group, who we partner with for a member-only service that helps you hire and manage your teams better. To learn more about OMNIA profiles through the MBA, click here.

Seven Strategies for Delivering Bad News to Employees

We’ve always known the world is a crazy, unpredictable place, and that’s especially true in business. Just when we overcome one challenge, another, even bigger one, is lurking around the corner. We might not have expected anything as big as a global pandemic, or fully considered the ripple effects it would have on our businesses and personal lives, but it’s happening. As a result, plans are continually shifting and tough choices are being made.


I read recently that everyone is most definitely not in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. That is certainly a fitting description. Some businesses are still doing well, some are doing better, but most are struggling, and that has made it necessary to make some hard decisions.


Whether those decisions mean something unfortunate, like reduced hours or forced vacation time, or something more devastating like layoffs, the news will be bad to the person receiving it. As the manager, you have to deliver that news, and it’s certainly not something you’re looking forward to.


You’re going to face resistance, frustration, or even anger. Bad news, even during good times, is still bad. And if you’re anything like me, you might get pulled into worst-case scenario thinking that will sabotage your confidence and resolve. To minimize your nerves as well as negative reactions and potential employee resentment, here are seven strategies for delivering bad news:


  • Plan it out. Think about the questions you might be asked and have answers at the ready. Preparation always makes the job easier; don’t wing it. It doesn’t mean you won’t get thrown for a loop, but the odds of that happening will be lower. Plus, having a plan and answers to questions you expect will come up, will give you something to focus on if you start to feel rattled by the conversation. Even the most assertive leadership personality types can feel uncomfortable with difficult conversations.


  • Be empathetic and listen. Kindness and respect go a long way. Though you don’t want to sugar coat the message, there is no need to keep compassion out of the equation.


  • Explain the why behind the what. Provide employees with thorough explanations of why the decisions/changes are being made, who will be affected, and if possible, how such alterations can benefit everyone. For example, reducing hours means fewer lay-offs, or forcing PTO usage means you don’t need to reduce hours. Introducing change in a positive light can prevent unwanted apprehension or resistance.


  • If the news involves change to daily tasks or operating procedures, be prepared to train people on the new expectations and outline the plan in the meeting. Highly structured staff members (usually those with a tall column 8 on the Omnia assessment) will want step-by-step guidance on how to perform such activities correctly.


  • Don’t try to hide the news behind confusing messages. You’ll just paint yourself into a corner and feel unprepared for the questions. A clear, firm message is best; ambiguity creates doubt as to the purpose of the change, and that might create more resentment.


  • Speaking of resentment, venting is natural. Let it happen, and listen rather than instantly shutting it down. Just make sure you are clear that the decisions are final.


  • Take a look at the employee’s Omnia assessment before the meeting as part of your prep work. Delivering news to a supportive, analytical employee might require more detailed explanations and attentive consideration than delivering news to an assertive, big-picture employee. But remember, empathy is always necessary (see tip 2).


Delivering bad news is never easy and it is never fun. It can be especially difficult when you know the decisions are not a reflection of poor performance or something else within an employee’s control. However, these seven strategies should remove some of the sting.


About the Author:

Wendy Sheaffer – Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy is a subject matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. For more information, visit us at, email or call 800.525.7117.