If the Sky is Falling, Say So

Two weeks ago our local newspaper reported 40-some employees arriving Monday morning at a local restaurant to find no jobs, just a sign on the door, the business had closed. Last week the same paper reported the same thing with a printing company that had 85 employees: Monday morning, sorry, company’s closed, jobs gone.

Come on please, owners and managers, grow up. There’s a recession on, and that’s only if we’re lucky and it’s not worse, this is no time to play pretend games with your employees. Nobody wants to be told things are fine when they obviously aren’t.

I learned this the hard way, in the last recession, back in 2001. Our sales tumbled right along with the NASDAQ during the dot-com boom. Eventually I had to lay off five of our 33 people in a single day; but I waited too long. And I had underestimated, while I was waiting and hoping, how much the rest of the team would pitch in, as soon as I recognized we were in trouble.

I know that when you put off the bad news you’re doing it for the right reasons. You don’t want people looking sideways, wondering who’s going to have to go.

On the other hand, imagine how much anger and resentment when things fall apart, and suddenly the whole place is gone. I wasn’t outside that restaurant that Monday morning, or outside the printing business the next Monday, but I can pretty well guess how much anger and resentment. The employees standing there out in the cold had to be double angry and resentful about not having advance notice. Right? 

Nobody wants to be told not to worry when things are bad. If you are in charge, they want you to share your worry with them, treating them like adults.  If you do, they’re likely to feel part of the team, and pitch in and help.

Here’s a tangent, maybe useful to you: The other thing I learned back in 2001 when I had to lay off five people at once: I thought that would be the hardest thing I’d done as an owner, but, surprisingly, it ended up easier to lay off five people the same day than what is the hardest of all things an owner does, which is letting one individual go. At least that day I let five people go, none of the five took it as a personal failure. The hardest thing I ever did when I was in charge was to let go somebody who had to go because of poor performance, but had been trying, with a good attitude. That one still hurts, years later.

Anyhow, back to my main point: if you’re a business owner, with employees, don’t think you’re doing anybody a favor by not sharing your worries. 

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Tim Berry, Entrepreneur and Founder of Palo Alto Software, bplans.com and Borland International About the Author: Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and co-founder of Borland International. He is also the author of books and software on business planning including Business Plan Pro and The Plan-as-You-Go Business Plan; and a Stanford MBA. His business plan coaching site is at bplanscoaching.com

Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.