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Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Does a huge company inform its staff of internal bad news?

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Question
Dear Sir,
May I ask if a huge company – like BBC, Google, Facebook – would consider it a good practice to inform its staff of the internal disciplinary decisions (who is suspended or sacked, etc).

Mine is a giant in its field, with at least 15,000 staff. For me, one frustrating thing is that we always receive the bosses’ emails about good news. But we rarely hear from them any bad thing. If we want to read about these kind of news, we can only read from the outside media.

Most recently, a departmental head is suspended and we read about it from a newspaper which has investigated and pushed this case. Our company did not say about this. And when our own manager was told by us about it, he just dismissed the story and did not want to say about it.

Objectively speaking, is it a good and normal practice?
Thank you.

Answer
Dear Chris,

Many thanks for writing to me.

You ask a very important question; one which few people consider. It shows your incredible insight and makes me think that you are nearer the bottom looking up, rather than at the top looking down.

I've long felt that employees are entitled to know the good and the bad. Because as you've discovered, when managers fail to explain a problem satisfactorily to their staff, rumour takes over, people put their own spin on the truth, and trust is lost in the management.

None of that is good for anyone.


That said, bad news has to be handled in a way that benefits all concerned, and the way that that is done will depend on the situation and the company.

Now let me say straightaway that I'm in no way condoning situation ethics. To me, the ethic remains the same regardless of the circumstances.

But what I am saying is that if it's not handled properly, then it can do more harm than good.

For example, how does a company tell its workers that it's in financial trouble? How does it explain that there will be a lot of redundancies without causing the share price to fall?

The easy and obvious solution is to simply hide the facts from people. And that's one of the reasons that workers distrust managers.

It seems to me that a better solution will be more difficult, more time consuming, and obscure. In that situation it would take hard work and determination to inform without alarm.


In your situation, I think that it was irresponsible of your company not to tell you something. You shouldn't have to read about it in the newspaper. It really does make it look as though they have something to hide.

My guess is that there were elements in the suspension that were not for the public's knowledge, and for all of the right reasons. There could have been legal factors, for example. Quite often you'll hear someone say that there was an out of court settlement that was conditional on not discussing the details.

When you're dealing with something as serious as the suspension of a department head, then it could be - and I'm not suggesting that it is - something like fraud or embezzlement. In a situation like that, you can be sure that the company doesn't want the markets to know what's going on. Not only that, but shareholders will start to call the company directors' competence into account if it looks like something serious occurred about which they knew nothing.


One way that this suspension could have been dealt with is if someone at the top of the company would have taken the responsibility to say that this department head had been suspended for "irregularities"; that a full investigation was being conducted, and that it would some while before they could release any details.

And then they could have said that they wanted you to know about it first hand because the story would probably be published in the newspapers.

Then when you did read about it, you wouldn't have been surprised.

As it happens, you're probably wondering what else they've been hiding from you.

I know that I would.

Bruce

Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers

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Dr Bruce Hoag, CPsychol AFBPsS

Expertise

How to retain top talent.
How to make your employees more productive
How to manage people across different cultures
How to make yourself more valuable to your current employer
How to manage your boss
How to become more employable

Experience

Co-wrote (with Professor Cary L Cooper, CBE) Managing Value-Based Organizations: It's Not What You Think, published in 2006.

Organizations
Academy of Management, British Psychological Society

Publications
Leadership & Organization Development Journal, http://www.ezinearticles.com

Education/Credentials
PhD, Organizational Psychology, Manchester Business School

Awards and Honors
Chartered Occupational Psychologist & Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society; Ezines Expert Author

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