Employee Comms Tip #1: Show Some Respect

Bloomberg says AOL is in discussions with Yahoo to talk about a deal of some sort (that would be an… interesting combination). But we’re still stuck on the way the situation with Carol Bartz played out this week. First they delivered the bad news over the phone. Then she struck back at Yahoo using the “D” word (“doofus”).

“In my opinion, I would never find it appropriate to fire someone over the phone, especially if it was a total surprise,” said Ed Flowers, EVP and MD of DHR International. DHR is an executive search firm that specializes in C-level recruits. And Flowers has over 25 years of HR experience, working with some of the largest companies in the world.

Flowers wasn’t privy to any information about the Yahoo situation other than what was in the news. And, “certainly, the results at Yahoo weren’t good so she probably knew she was in jeopardy to some degree.” But otherwise, a face-to-face meeting of some kind is always the way to go when dealing with these sorts of sensitive employee relations situations.

“Every employee, whether they’re at the lowest level of an operation or the very highest level should be treated with dignity and respect,” Flowers told us.

Even when you can’t personally be there to deliver the final blow, “a surrogate” should; someone who can talk to the person being fired because “nothing takes the place of direct communications,” Flowers said.

Where there’s a budget for it, he even suggests hiring an outplacement organization that can help an employee deal with the shock of losing their job and help them recover. In the case of many high-level execs, the big check they get on the way out the door may also help with that recovery.

Not only is it a matter of respect for the employee, it can also help a company with its future recruitment efforts.

“Companies that handle it very flippantly, those are the companies that lose loyalty,” Flowers added. “People see this organization doesn’t care about them.” That can lead to abrupt resignations from staff members and a bad corporate reputation. Social media provides an outlet for disgruntled (former) employees to share their (negative) experiences with lots of others. And people are doing their online research during the job hunting process.

This becomes particularly critical if you’re looking to hire millennials, who are having none of it.

“They want to  know how companies treat their employees, about work-life balance, and the amount of flexibility in their jobs,” Flowers said. “Any company that ignores that in this marketplace makes a mistake in terms of attracting talent.”

Maintaining high standards of communication with employees at every level is always important. Flowers said companies must be sure to share information about business strategy, changes in the business, employee comms programs, policies and values. And communication should be consistent and it should be done proactively when things are going well and when there are bumps in the road or transitions to be made.

All of these rules apply even in these tough times of unemployment when many people would simply like to have a job.

“Hiring is a two-way street,” Flowers said. Many companies are also seeking people who are already employed. For proof of that, take a look at all of the movement from one PR firm to another in our Roll Call columns.