Giving bad news the right way

Employers have the upper hand these days. Workers who endure pay cuts, elimination of 401(k) contributions, and other benefit
reductions are keeping any grousing to themselves. Often, they’re just thankful they still have a job during the worst economic
slump since the Great Depression.

It’s an environment that brings out the worst in some stressed-out managers. We’ve all heard horror stories of workers who
got the ax in less-than-compassionate ways — even via e-mail — and with skimpy severance or none at all.

You can’t blame companies these days for laying off workers — at least not those firms that make the cuts as part of
a well-thought-out
strategy, rather than out of sheer panic.

But the smart managers know that, one day, the tables will turn, and the firms that show grace and class now will have their
pick of top performers later. Following the Golden Rule is not only the right thing to do; it’s good for business.

As veteran human resources consultant Karl Ahlrichs says, "The word on the street is a powerful thing."

He added: "How an organization handles these high-stress moments gives a clear picture on how they handle everything."

It’s not only about attracting future workers. It’s about energizing workers who remain. They’ll have better morale, and be
more productive, if they feel their friends who got pink slips received fair treatment. Shabby treatment has the opposite
impact, leaving remaining workers feeling less valued and fearful they’ll be jettisoned as well.

Faring well for compassion is Emmis Communications Corp., which this month cut 104 employees, or 7.5 percent of its work force.
It also cut the salary of remaining employees 5 percent.

Neither move went over well, of course. But the company is struggling so mightily that many workers might have understood
if they received chintzy severance. Instead, the company awarded "enhanced severance" because it recognized workers
would
have a harder-than-usual time landing new jobs.

Standard severance ranges from two weeks for workers with less than a year of service to six months for senior managers. The
enhanced plan extended the severance to 12 weeks for workers with less than a year of service and up to 15 months for senior
managers.

"Our employees are the core to Emmis’ strength," company spokeswoman Kate Snedeker explained. "It is painful
to let any of
them go at any time, particularly in these challenging times."

The show of good will didn’t come cheap. Emmis is spending $4.2 million on the regular severance. The additional severance
will cost another $3.3 million. But making that investment sends a resounding message to remaining workers and to the marketplace
that will benefit the company for years to come.

___

To comment on this editorial, write to [email protected] 

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.