6 Guidelines for Sharing Tough News Internally

memo-formatThere's enough happy talk to spare in external brand communications. It's often a different story inside an organization. When an all-company internal memo goes out, it's an even chance that the news will not be sunny. When all-employee internal memos hit desktops and mobiles, fears inevitably rise that layoffs are on the immediate horizon. And those fears often mirror the truth.

The task of writing internal memos about layoffs or "restructuring" and similar crises that threaten livelihoods usually falls to PR and HR professionals. It's a painful, difficult task, but it's part of what they signed up to do. It's not easy getting this right and taking an honest, humane approach, but these guidelines from Melony Shemberger, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Murray State University in Tennessee, are a good place to start when it's your time to share potentially distressing internal news.

1. Begin the memo with a heading. The heading contains information about the recipient of the memo, the sender, the date and the business memo subject. The subject of the memo should be a short sentence that describes the entire memo.

2. Get to the point of your memo. No employee wants to hear bad news, especially when it comes to potential unemployment. In the case of layoffs, the announcement of a company layoff needs to come early in a memo. The reasons for the layoff can come after the news is announced.

3. Keep the memo short. Attach documents if needed, but the body of the memo should be brief.

4. Use a tone that is direct but not conversational or chatty.

5. Use clear words and terms and avoid corporate talk. Avoid including “align,” “focus,” “delivering” and other vague words that an employee might not understand, especially when the purpose of the memo is not clear.

6. Be prepared for employee reactions. In the event of a crisis, employees will be worried and stressed.

Melony Shemberger is a contributor to PR News' upcoming "Book of Employee Communications Strategies and Tactics, Vol. 5." Learn more about PR News' guidebooks.

Follow Steve Goldstein on Twitter: @SGoldsteinAI