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When delivering bad news, be clear and direct

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “After my supervisor retired, I was promoted to fill his position. He had a special arrangement with one employee, “Kelly,” allowing her to come in early and leave early. However, no one ever knew exactly what time she arrived. When the owner promoted me, he said that I must put Kelly on the same schedule as everyone else. I’m not sure how to approach this employee about changing her hours. How can I fix this without losing her?” — Caught in the Middle

Marie's Answer:  Either the owner never knew about this special deal, or he was afraid to confront the previous supervisor. But now that his expectations are clear, you need to deliver the bad news. 

•    Tell Kelly that work hours are going to be standardized. You can attribute this change to the owner, but make it clear that you support his decision. 

•    Communicate the new expectations clearly. Example: "I know you had a special arrangement with your former boss, but different schedules create confusion. The owner wants everyone here at the same time, so you will need to begin working from 9:00 to 5:00."

•    Listen sympathetically when Kelly protests, but remain firm. If you discover that she has truly exceptional circumstances, discuss the situation with the owner. Otherwise, give her a week to adjust child care or transportation plans before switching to the new schedule. 

•    Don’t worry about losing her, unless Kelly has irreplaceable abilities. If she chooses to leave, you’ll simply find someone who can work the required hours. 

This type of situation requires clear, direct communication.  To assess your own communication style, see Are You a Direct or Indirect Communicator?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Burdleigh September 7, 2009 at 11:26 am

Why would you have to change things just because a retiring person tells you to. Leave Kelly working her hours unless they really conflict with getting the job done.


deb March 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

We had a similar situation occur in one of our departments in that a supervisor had one employee who was habitually tardy to work (she had problems getting up in the morning was the reason we heard). When is was pointed out that everyone else was expected to be on time and if he was going to allow one employee to be tardy without there being repercussions, then the rest of the team wanted the same privilage (there was a written attendance policy in place that clearly stated the expecations for attendance).
When the situation finally came to our human resources manager’s attention the supervisor was informed that he would have to put the tardy employee on written discipline and if the issue continued she could be terminated for the absence issue.
Needless to say the employee was very upset that she being written up and was going to be held accountable for her attendance. She contended that a precident had been set that allowed her to be late to work without discipline. I remember the situation as getting particuarly ugly before it was finally resolved.
The lessen learned was not to make “special” rules for any one person that violate a companies policy around attendance.


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