Written by Tracy Brower
Times are tough, and many businesses are faced with difficult decisions to reduce employees’ pay, reduce hours, or lay people off. Delivering bad news is never easy, but in comparison to avoiding or shielding people from it, being open about difficult information can have some positive effects.
Overall, great leaders are transparent, and they share information with empathy. They don’t betray confidences or share inappropriately, of course, but they keep people as informed as possible—even when the news is upsetting. Here are the ways sharing the grim can be a good thing:
1. Demonstrating respect
People are smart, and usually know when things are happening. As the saying goes, it is rare for any secret to truly be well-kept. Being open about business conditions and potential outcomes shows you respect people enough to be transparent and share openly.
2. Empowering people
Often, tough conditions necessitate people making life choices. For example, if furloughs are on the horizon, an employee may put off purchasing that new car, or if people’s hours will be reduced, they may make different choices about child care. Being open with people gives them critical information so they can make good decisions and plan ahead as much as possible—even in uncertain times.
3. Fostering trust
People don’t trust what they don’t understand so keeping people in the dark can create suspicion and anxiety. Sharing what you know as immediately as possible creates greater information density. When people are in the know, they don’t have to spend time or energy wondering or waiting.
4. Encouraging efficiency
When things are ambiguous, it can be hard to focus, and employees can spend a lot of time in conjecture. This can detract from productivity, reduce engagement, and lesson employee satisfaction (after all, worry and satisfaction generally don’t go together). One of my first bosses, Mary, used to say, “The rumor mill is always right because it’s really just a big brainstorming session. Eventually, every possibility is represented there—and that’s why it’s so often accurate.” When you’re straight with people and share more about what’s happening, they can stop spreading rumors and hypothesizing—speculating less and engaging more.
5. Enhancing culture
Positive organizational cultures are good for people and good for a company’s results. Open, transparent communication contributes to constructive cultures. Setting clear direction, aligning on values, being consistent with policies and practices, involving people, and adapting to customers and the market are hallmarks of effectiveness. All of these require plenty of free-flowing information, so people have clear expectations and can make good decisions.
6. Increasing adaptability
Companies need resilient people so they can respond effectively in changing times. Resilience is enhanced when people understand reality and have time to react and flex. When you provide timely updates and the latest news about the business, people can get used to what might be difficult and react more constructively. In addition, the perspectives you provide give people context and a bigger picture within which to understand conditions. This ability to make sense of things contributes to overall resilience among employees—and, in turn, for the company.
7. Enhancing commitment
Establishing a trusting relationship with employees is perhaps one of the best things a company can do. Employees will have greater levels of satisfaction if they feel respected and appreciated. They will be more likely to stay with the company and give discretionary effort. All of this contributes to a successful business that can not only bounce back but bounce forward.
Leaders may shy away from sharing bad news, but this approach could actually detract from effectiveness overall. Sharing openly—even when information is difficult—demonstrates respect, empowers people, and fosters trust. When people know more, they can spend less time wondering and engage more fully. This results in a more positive culture and increased levels of adaptability and commitment—all of which are good for people and for business.