how to announce a firing, I’m losing my bonus, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. How to announce a firing to the rest of your staff

Can you please provide me with an email script to inform my employees that someone has been dismissed?

“Unfortunately, Jane’s last day with us was today. We wish her the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions.”

Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this. The real key, though, is to ensure that your staff understands how performance problems are handled. After all, you may know that you had multiple conversations with Jane before letting her go, and gave her warnings and opportunities to improve, but since her coworkers probably weren’t privy to that, you don’t want them worrying that people get fired out of the blue. That means that it’s important to be transparent with people about how you handle performance problems in general, so that they understand there’s a fair process in place and know that they’d be warned if they were in danger of losing their job.

2. I’m losing my bonus, which accounts for a big chunk of my pay

I’m hoping to get some perspective about a recent change in the pay structure at my job. When I was hired, the offer included a base salary plus what they estimated would be about 20% in bonuses earned throughout the year, dependent on our branch’s business level. For the first few years this worked out great, and actually averaged above the 20% level.

Recently, however, we were told the bonus system was effectively on hold (for how long, I don’t know). While my salary alone is livable, it’s on the low end for the field and my experience level, based on other positions I’ve seen advertised and surveys by trade organizations.

I like the work, but if this is a long term change it will end up being a considerable reduction in pay from previous years. Adding to that, the bonuses were staggered based on staff members’ experience and level of responsibility for various projects. Absent them, my base salary is pretty similar to that of staff with less experience. Comparing with my co-workers feels petty, but I do feel I should be compensated for experience, extra time put in and additional responsibilities.

Mentally, I’ve been all over the map in terms of what to do. Stick it out for awhile? Look for opportunities to move on? Try to negotiate a higher salary, even if it’s below the amount with the bonuses? Although if that fails, I’m not sure where that leaves me.

I tend to be pretty nonconfrontational, and I truly like the work, but I also don’t want to avoid standing up for my interests here. Any advice would be appreciated!

You’ve just been given a pretty significant pay cut, and that’s a very reasonable thing to bring up. I’d say this to your boss: “I understand there are reasons for putting the bonus system on hold. However, this leaves me with what’s essentially an X% pay cut from what I’ve been earning and what was included in my job offer when I was hired. Is there something else we can do to bring my pay back up to the range we agreed on when I took the job?”

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My husband started a new business and wants me to connect him to my boss

I work for a large company and have been working for a partner for several years now. My husband has recently started his own business and wants me to connect him to my boss, so he can setup a meeting to see if there is any projects within this company that can be outsourced to him.

I have a good relationship with the partner; he has attended my wedding and he is familiar with my personal family life (parents, kids, etc). However, in the past few years he has climbed the ranks within the company and I don’t communicate with him as often, because of his busy schedule.

I want to help my husband with his new business and I know my boss will be a great connection, but not sure if it’s appropriate or how to do it. My husband has suggested that he writes a short intro email about his new business for me to forward to my boss. What is your take on this?

Don’t do it. It’s a conflict of interest for you to recommend your husband’s company, and you risk it making your boss uncomfortable. Plus, if your boss is smart, he’s not going to outsource work to your husband; there are too many potential problems if something goes wrong. (For example, if he’s unhappy with the quality of the work, it could cause tension with you, and so forth.)

4. Writing a cover letter when you don’t know anything about the company

I have a question about writing cover letters to job postings that provide a good description of the position, but very few details about the company.

I’m currently looking for a new job and recently found a craigslist ad asking for someone with my skill set and interests, in an industry I’m excited about. Per your advice, I want to write a personalized cover letter to help my chances at an interview, but the ad doesn’t give the name of the company. It gives a nice, detailed description of the job and their ideal candidate, but only refers to the company as “an established high-end teapot company” which, in my city, does not narrow down the possibilities at all.

I tried reaching out by responding to their Craigslist ad 9 days ago, asking for more details about the company (website, team size, minor clarification about the job description), but never received a response. I checked craigslist again today, and the company had reposted the same ad 2 days ago, so I’m guessing they have not yet filled the position.

I really want to apply for the job–should I send my resume without a cover letter? Send it with a cover letter that is as personalized as it possibly can be, with the limited information I have about the company? Hope they respond to my initial email asking for more details?

You can write a good cover letter without knowing details about the company. Write about why you’d excel at the work, which matters more anyway (and really should be the bulk of your letter even when you know all about the company).

And don’t wait for them to respond to your email asking for more details. Many employers won’t spend the time answering questions from people who they haven’t even determined yet will be strong candidates), and you risk the posting closing while you wait.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    #2 Reducing your pay by 20% or more is a giant big deal — GIANT. That they haven’t come to you with a plan to adjust your base salary is an enormous red flag. One possibility is that the company is going down the drain; healthy companies don’t just reduce everyone’s pay. If it differentially affects you, maybe they have problems with you — but at least on the face that isn’t obvious from what you wrote. It would be useful to know if other people in your boat have been ‘taken care of.’

    Regardless of what else you do, you should be kicking a job search into high gear. THEY cut your pay by 20% — GIANT big kick in the face. So of course do what Alison has suggested is step number one. No pussyfooting around; they cut your salary by 20% of course you need a serious conversation about adjusting your salary base or at least finding out that this is not on the screen.

    But when a company is doing this badly, time to look for an exit — and sooner rather than later. I once ignored signs that my company was going down; even when they came around and put little numbers on everything as part of a ‘routine inventory’ I didn’t realize it was over. A 20% salary cut could not be a bigger sign of impending disaster whether it is personal or company wide.

    1. Phyllis*

      This is a red flag, but… they’ve cut bonuses, which are over and above regular pay. There was always the possibility of not getting the bonus, depending on circumstances. Based on the OP’s description, it appears due to increased responsibilities that a case can be made for additional compensation, but treating losing a bonus structure as a pay cut is disingenuous at best.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Sort of.

        There are two kinds of bonuses, bonuses that are “extra! we’re doing well so atta girl have some!” and bonuses that are an integral part of compensation structure. The key to the second one, the integral part, is that as a bonus, it fluctuates due to the bonus factors.

        As real a life example as you can get: my bonus has been as high as 2X salary and has no ceiling. When the economy crashed in 2008, I got no bonus for that year and spent years fixing the business so I could get back to making good money again.

        While I had a defacto 2/3 pay cut, it wasn’t an actual pay cut and asking for a salary increase during a time like that would have been…”tone deaf” isn’t a strong enough expression.

        In the case of the OP, the key factor to me is: they eliminated the possibility of bonus. If the OP wrote in and said “business is not performing well hence I am not meeting my metrics and hence I’m not making the mad cash I used to”, I’d say welcome to the world of having partial income based on bonus, hope next year works out better for you.

        By eliminating the bonus possibility, they have indeed removed part of her compensation structure and that’s the angle I’d go at this from. Her bonus wasn’t an “atta girl” bonus, it was part of her pay structure.

        1. Phyllis*

          Thanks for clarifying it the way you did–I see your point. I learn something from you every day here.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Aw gw’an. :)

            Me, I’d negotiate for a new bonus structure immediately, (but I’m very aggressive when it comes to $$ negotiations.) Bonus as a part of compensation should be tied to the personal contribution you make to overall business goals. So what are the goals now? (And if you don’t want employees demanding that information, don’t put them on a bonus structure as part of compensation.)

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I am in a job where bonuses are expected to be pure gravy–you’d be silly to expect them, and so “but I arranged my life based on expectations of this bonus” would be inappropriate. But my father in law is in an industry where bonuses are part of the compensation package and tied to certain metrics: the basic agreement is that if you achieve X, you will get Y bonus. People are hired on at lower salaries specifically because if you do a decent job, the bonus structure will make up the difference–because it’s not “random extra money for nice,” it’s “specific extra money based on certain metrics.”

          In the latter case, I think it makes sense to consider changing the bonus structure, or doing away with it, as a genuine pay cut.

      2. Artemesia*

        Not even. If you are recruited on the basis that the salary is really much higher than the offer because — bonuses. And bonuses have been routine part of compensation then that is simply a pay cut just as if one was always paid on base plus commission and they decided to not do commission anymore or cut it drastically. The OP did not indicate that ‘we can’t do bonuses this year because of a downtick in profits’ but rather that they are dispensing with bonuses. This could not be a worse sign of either business failure or management intent to enrich themselves at the expense of the workforce.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Eh, it could also be mis-management or bad communication. I don’t think the OP needs to push the panic button until she gets more information. For all we know the currrent bonus program has been put on hold because PTB wants to restructure it. It’s not like good communication is a hallmark of American business.

      3. TootsNYC*

        My old company gave bonuses based on how well the company did. So when the entire company had a bad year, everybody’s bonus was based on that.

        I agree that it’s not the same thing as cutting base pay–and in my company, you also got a bonus based on how good you were at your job. So if you were doing great, you got a bonus, but the entire amount for bonuses was much smaller. And maybe even nonexistent.

        So, it’s a huge red flag in terms of how healthy the company is!

        And if you’re in sales, and that bonus was supposed to be affected by how much cash you brought in, then yes this is a severe paycut that they should be discussing with you.

        But in my case, I couldn’t really go to them and say, “you know that bonus you aren’t giving me this year? You need to find a way to pay me more to make up for it.”
        The reason they weren’t paying it is, they didn’t have enough money!

        So discuss it, and Alison’s script is good–but know that if they don’t have enough money to pay you a bonus, they don’t have enough money to raise your base pay either!!

      4. Cath in Canada*

        I managed to work for my former company during the only three year period in a >20 year history in which they did not pay bonuses. Yay me!

        (The Canadian dollar reached par with the US dollar, which is good for some people but bad when your primary market is in the States and you’re already more expensive than the competition. The loonie’s low again now, which is good for my former company, my husband’s industry, and – indirectly – my sector. Economics is complicated!)

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      #2 – if the company is truly hurting then you may have to take the hit.

      If it’s an action aimed specifically at you, however, it’s time to bail.

      Now – when management pulls a stunt like this – one thing they often do is a “risk assessment” – the risks to the business are evaluated, as well as the risk to the employee force. “If we do this, what do you think the reaction would be???” They DO discuss this. Don’t think that they don’t.

      Start looking. If you get something – approach your manager “I’m going to probably be leaving, I have a job offer, and I couldn’t afford the cut”…. don’t be surprised if they don’t come back and say “oh, gee whiz, we were going to cut you a check and adjust that, in a couple weeks, I, umm, uh, didn’t get the chance to tell you yet, it’s still under wraps, but…” there’s a slush fund set up to make good on it if a) you flex your muscles and b) they really want to keep you.

      Been there, seen it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But why would you want to stay under those circumstances anyway? “Oh yeah we did have some money, we just weren’t going to give it to you unless you threatened to quit” – that’s terrible management.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Of course it’s terrible management! But the reality is, some places actually work that way.

      1. Sueme*

        I see a lot of blind listings for legal jobs on Craigslist. Wouldn’t they want to avoid hiring people with a potential conflict of interest? And wouldn’t you want to avoid applying if you knew you had one?

        1. INTP*

          Generally they disclose the company name early in the interview process to cut out anyone with conflicts of interest, not open to that employer, etc, so the worst that will happen is you waste your time putting together an application and five minutes on the phone. Annoying, but there are reasons for the confidentiality – if it’s a staffing agency posting, they (quite reasonably) don’t want to spend money advertising the job only to drive people to apply directly to the company website.

          1. De Minimis*

            I’ve applied to several in the past….you find out the identity of the employer when they contact you.

            I’ve mentioned this before, the places where i interviewed from blind ads were all very small companies that couldn’t have handled a large amount of calls about a job vacancy [even if you say “No calls” there are always a percentage who call anyway, and if it’s a tight job market that could still mean a hundred calls.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      Yep– the OP should proceed with extreme caution, since a lot of blind Craigslist job postings like this are scams.

      1. SherryD*

        Another warning about blind job postings: You could end up applying for the job you already have! I know someone who did this — talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          Oh, and also: Even if the job posting is legitimate, the job has probably gotten hundreds of applicants– nine days is an eternity on Craigslist.

          I put my shitbox car on craigslist with a very honest description of its many flaws ( “It’s a rustbucket with all kinds of engine problems, the AC and radio don’t work, and it smells funny, but it beats walkin’ and it’s yours for $XXX”). I started getting emails immediately, a buyer was at my house in less than an hour, and the transaction was done later that day… and I still got 10-15 emails a DAY about it for at least a month afterward.

          1. Sigrid*

            That happens every time my wife puts anything up on Freecycle. It’s amazing the things we’ve been able to unload.

  2. Stephanie*

    #3: Yeah, don’t do it. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest, imagine the fallout if the company wasn’t unhappy with your husband’s work (or vice versa).

    1. Onnellinen*

      Yep – been there, done that but it was my fiancé and a colleague (thankfully not boss). It’s been a couple of years, but I still regret it!

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yeah, I’ve seen it go badly with a colleague’s husband who did graphic design work for our department for several years. During the final couple of years, the new department head didn’t like the work that the previous dept head had liked, and it got pretty awkward.

      1. Artemesia*

        My first husband was an attorney and a colleague used him for an adoption which seemed routine to the colleague but was tricky for various reasons and so the fee was much higher than expected. (and I think it did cost more than it should because my husband was not very competent in this field and the firm billed his learning time – not good) I had to live with this the rest of the time I worked there with that unhappy colleague. If I had had the money I would have paid them back but I was getting paid peanuts.

        Never mix spouse’s business with your workplace.

        1. fposte*

          If your first husband was an adoption attorney while you were living in Chicago, my dad probably knew him :-).

    3. NickelandDime*

      I have to agree. Sometimes people are so excited about their “thing” that they don’t see potential problems in front of them. Been there, done that. Excitement about a new business venture shouldn’t involve risking problems with his wife’s paycheck. I’d stay out of that lane!

  3. INTP*

    Re: #5 – I understand the impulse to ask for more information but when I was a recruiter I was always a bit put off by these requests. It comes across like you think answering your questions when I have no idea if you are a viable candidate should be worth my time while it wasn’t worth your time to put together an application before you had your questions answered to verify you’d be interested in the job. Definitely don’t wait for a response, send your resume and cover letter. Just focus the letter on your qualifications – they won’t expect it to be tailored to the company when they haven’t disclosed it.

    Also, with no company name this is likely to be a recruiting agency posting and they may not be allowed to disclose the name freely, only sharing the client with viable candidates is pretty common. Even if the client didn’t care, many people would just apply directly to the company after learning the name. Thus, they tend to ignore that sort of email.

  4. David*

    #1: I know the professional response is always to keep it as simple and straight forward as possible with as limited specific information as possible to maintain privacy for all parties. I get this, but I often wish we would see more of the following:

    “Unfortunately, Jane’s last day with us was today. After the incident with the janitor and the board room table it was decided that it would be best if we parted ways. This latest incident was the last straw after the incident with the photo copier and the incident with the paint in the car park. We expect that from now on the charity chocolate box kitty should balance at the end each month and food that individuals bring in for their own lunchs should not be tampered with or mysteriously disappear from the fridge. Also, If people notice copying paper being used at a faster rate than the machines are being loaded could they please contact HR. We wish her the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions.”

    It ‘outs’ all ‘Jane’s’ indiscretions and implies a hand full more. It provides weeks of water cooler gossip material for the entire office. And also reminds people that some things are just not appropriate.

    But sadly for the sake of professionalism we wont be seeing this sort of ‘all staff’ email.

    1. Jwal*

      We get the “Amelia is no longer with us” emails, and everyone knows that that means that Amelia has either been fired or has been encouraged to leave, and then everyone talks about it and wonders what it was and why it wasn’t somebody else that deserves it more etc. etc.

      For once I’d like for them to tell the story, but alas.

      1. Arjay*

        You’re lucky to get this much information. People at my job are just disappeared, and we don’t even know they’re gone until we need them for something.

        1. Rebecca*

          My company doesn’t even take down their email address or add an out of office message, so I’ve emailed things to people, not knowing they were no longer with the company, and wondering why they weren’t getting back to me. I find out when I send the 3rd request, and include their manager, and get a short message back “Jane is no longer with the company. You should contact Fergus.” as if I should have known that somehow by scanning the air with my thought waves.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Maybe you weren’t the only person Jane was flat-out ignoring, and that was why she was fired. (I mean, it could happen.)

        2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          This happened at my job. I work remotely and called my boss for something (can’t remember what) and the line was forwarded to another manager at his level who told me that my boss was “out” and she was “covering for him”. Several days later, I got an email that they were piloting a new management structure and my managers would be Marsha, Jan, and Cindy. When I asked about my boss on the phone, they wouldn’t tell me anything other than “he’s no longer with Teapots, Inc.” I wasn’t looking for huge gossip, but I had enjoyed working with him. It was pretty awkward.

    2. SevenSixOne*

      The last time I saw a colleague get fired, it was handled so bizarrely! The boss called Dana in for a meeting very casually, like “Hey Dana, can you stop by for a minute before you go to lunch?”, they had a closed-door meeting for maybe five minutes, then Dana left for lunch… and never came back. The next day, the boss made a token acknowledgement that “Dana is no longer with Name of Company. We have promoted Sam to Dana’s old role “, and that was the beginning and end of it.

      From what I knew and what I heard from other people, I was able to piece together that Dana’s most recent major screwup was part of a pattern of major screwups that couldn’t keep happening, but I still thought it was super weird that the boss basically acted like Dana never even existed and expected the staff to do the same.

      1. Girasol*

        We do this: just disappear them. Someone asked me once, “I heard Jacinda was fired! Was she? I’m on her project team and we haven’t done anything since we met with her last. What are we supposed to do?” She’d been gone six weeks! If they could just have said, “Jacinda is no longer with us. See her manager if you have questions about her work,” we would all have thought, “Heh. Her attendance habits caught up with her.” But because no one knew the disciplinary process, the need for everything to be so super-secret suggested that there was something unspeakably awful about the whole thing. And there was, sort of. I spoke to Jacinda the day she was fired. Her manager and manager’s manager dumped a laundry list of minor trumped up offenses on her before getting down to the very real attendance problems. She’d argued vehemently against the trivia. Although she was given a PIP it was rescinded the next day as an afterthought, and she was fired for being argumentative in that meeting. I was left with the impression that our disciplinary process was a mess but karma still worked as expected.

        1. Artemesia*

          I love the kafkaesque notion that arguing when bogus charges are being levied against you is grounds for dismissal.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              And even the death sentence, if you’re a minority/disabled/mentally ill/have bad timing

    3. Sigrid*

      I disagree. I think that kind of email in inappropriate because it is a) by definition only telling one side of the story; b) none of the co-workers’ business; and c) incredibly rude. No matter how bad an employee she was, Jane doesn’t need her indiscretions outed, and she certainly doesn’t need to be the subject of water cooler gossip (WTH??). Much better is to send the very simple and factual email that Alison recommends, and being clear, to everyone, all the time, what acceptable performance entails, and the procedures that are followed when performance is not acceptable. If you are clear about performance, to everyone, all the time, then knowing the details of Jane’s termination is unnecessary, because your employees will trust that it was fair.

    4. AnotherFed*

      I think this kind of email is unkind for exactly what you wrote – it outs all of the person’s indiscretions and mistakes, providing weeks of water cooler gossip for the entire office. If the mistakes are truly egregious, the office does not need to be reminded – people generally know not to have duck clubs or steal cash. If it’s just a combination of mistakes and poor performance, there is no need to publicly shame the employee – they may not be terrible in general, just bad at this particular job, and it serves no benefit to publicly shame them.

    5. Firings*

      We do get this email, “so and so is gone” but no reason given. Once, we had someone who was a likable person get fired and all my staff came to me asking me why since s/he was such a likable colleague (the person did not report to me). They did not work with that person so were not aware of all or even any of the problems. I was privy to the reasons and to the warnings s/he had received but really did not feel it was my place to share that. I tried to reassure them that the person did get warnings and there was a process that was followed but I didn’t feel they believed me. Very frustrating.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Do you, or does your company specify that a person has been let go vs. quit? I mean, usually when someone leaves so quickly it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t by choice, but there are people that just up and quit with no notice. I don’t need the juicy details of what someone’s done (or not done), but knowing whether they left by choice or by force doesn’t feel too invasive.

        1. Firings*

          I think usually when someone quits we circulate a card at the very least or have some “going-away” food party. So when that does not happen…it is assumed it was not voluntary.

        2. NicoleK*

          At my organization, if someone resigns with appropriate notice, the departing employee receives a card and a going away party. I had someone resign with no notice; the email went out stating that the individual voluntarily resigned effective that day. I do try to make a distinction between voluntary resignation and involuntary termination.

    6. Turtle Candle*

      Oh gosh, this would make me want to leave immediately and silently just because I’d be afraid of having all my dirty laundry aired when I left–because it’s never clear from this kind of tell-all whether the facts are true, or suspected, or sour grapes, or what. Argh. It would make the whole workplace feel immediately hostile.

      1. Emily K*

        I agree. My confidence in my workplace’s stability and healthiness would plummet and I’d start looking for another job if that’s how they handled firings. Gossip should be discouraged, not fed.

      2. Scotty_Smalls*

        I wish my company would do this. I don’t think they are used to it since there is such a high turnover rate among direct staff. But I wish there was an email letting us know about higher ups. I would have liked to know that the supervisor I was naming on applications was no longer at the office. I don’t even know if she’s still in the company. At least I got a call from the new supervisor when another one was demoted. Or I don’t know if she was demoted or asked for a reduced workload. New Admin started without even so much as an email letting us know she was replacing the other one and not in addition.

  5. Rebecca*

    #1 – I’d like to see a combination of the official email, stating Jane isn’t with us any longer, wishing her the best, and please contact Fergus and Lucinda, etc. paired with a quick verbal meeting with our manager telling us basically what happened. Alison is exactly correct when she says other workers normally don’t know what was happening behind the scenes, and people just disappearing for no apparent reason is disconcerting. It would only take a minute or two to explain that Jane had been on a PIP or multiple PIPs, that specific performance issues were addressed but not improved, or things along those lines. It would go a long way toward calming the rest of the staff afterward.

    1. Sara*

      I agree. A few years ago, I worked on the bottom rung of a very small business (three employees + the founder), and so when the other woman who worked at the same level as I did got fired (which they didn’t even tell me about for three weeks, and then only because I asked point-blank!), I panicked a little. Was I next? Had this just come out of the blue? Were they going to give me any warning if I was heading in the same direction?

    2. F.*

      As an HR manager, I can tell you that a coworker’s firing is none of your business. All you need to know is how the change impacts your job duties, and it sounds like that information was provided. How would you like it if YOU were the one who was fired and YOUR dirty laundry was aired to your colleagues?

      1. Sara*

        You make a good point, and I imagine that if I were fired, I’d rather not have my boss tell everyone about my gross incompetence (or whatever), even after my departure. But in the case I described above, the total lack of communication or transparency about my co-worker’s firing (I honestly think they wouldn’t have ever addressed it had I not brought it up) made the situation very stressful for me. I feel there had to be some middle ground between silence on the matter and, say, letting me pour over her PIP and performance evaluations. I don’t feel I have the right to all the gory details, but a simple “There were performance issues, we went through a process to try and remedy those, and it didn’t work out” would have significantly decreased my subsequent concern about my job security.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          I agree there has to be some middle ground when someone is fired it can be quite unsettling for the other staff, and a brief announcement should be made.

        2. SevenSixOne*

          Sometimes there’s a vague way to explain the situation. It may not be practical or possible in every situation, but I think it can be a kind option.

          My current company gives an official explanation like “Jane did not adhere to our XYZ policy and was let go as the final step in the progressive discipline outlined in the policy” on a need-to-know basis whenever possible, and then uses that as an opportunity to refresh everyone on the XYZ policy and where they stand with their own adherence.

        3. neverjaunty*

          The middle ground is having good management that is transparent about the process leading up to firing. If employees worry “wait, could I be next?” that’s a sign that management is doing a bad job communicating what the firing process is – otherwise you wouldn’t worry, because you’d know that they would have put you on a PIP if there were issues.

      2. A Manager*

        While that is true, often the water cooler version is much worse than what really happened. When you leave people with no explanation, they will fill in something else. This is particularly true when you have done a good job as a manager and have been discrete with the performance issues so that it appears to be out of the blue to the rest of the staff. I had to let someone go once because he just couldn’t/wouldn’t do the job and I used Alison’s wording that it was his last day and we wish him well but within 24 hours I had to get my boss to round up the entire department to tell them to stop gossiping about it and ended up telling them it “just wasn’t a good fit”. The story that went around was that he was watching porn on his computer. The poor guy still had people he was friendly with there and imagine if it had gotten back to him that “everyone” was saying he was fired for porn? Perhaps if we had said it just wasn’t a good fit from the start we could have avoided the rumor mill making it so much worse.

        1. F.*

          If the gossip becomes a behaviorial issue in the workplace, then it needs to be addressed as such regardless of the topic.

          1. Cat*

            In theory, sure, but in terms of dealing with actual fallible humans, this is often not that practical.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yeah, it’s not realistic to expect people not to speculate when a coworker is fired with no explanation and no red flags in behavior/performance beforehand that had been noticed by anyone. That has happened at several of my workplaces. You naturally wonder what happened and if you’re next, since as far as you can tell there was no real reason for the person to be fired other than “we felt like it.”

              I think Alison is right–the way to avoid this kind of thing is to always be very transparent before someone is fired about what the process is for dealing with underperforming employees. If you know the process, know it’s fair, and know it’s followed, you are less likely to be worried when someone is disappeared.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          We had someone once who really was fired for child porn. It made the local paper so was common knowledge at the time. Two years down the line we still get junk mail for this guy, and when a new apprentice who didn’t know the story came across such an item once, asked who this guy was and someone volunteered the whole story, our manager was not happy.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            We had an IT guy fired for regular porn watching. A sanitized version of the truth would have been much preferable to the rumors, which included the idea that there was a webcam found in the women’s dressing room.

      3. Rebecca*

        I think you misunderstood me. I don’t think we should be told the details, as you are correct, the details are not our business. But – as a non-exempt serf in the company, it’s very disconcerting to see that someone has been fired, and you have no idea why. The natural thing to think is, am I next? What did that person do to get fired? Am I in danger of being fired too? A simple explanation stating there was an issue, while not going into the details of the exact issue, and now Jane is no longer with the company would go a great way toward calming the nerves of everyone after the fact.

        1. neverjaunty*

          But then everyone’s just going to speculate on the details of the issue. There’s no bottom to the gossip well.

          1. esra*

            Having been through rounds of layoffs and firing, it doesn’t have to lead to gossip. People just want to feel reassured.

    3. Lobster in Dixie*

      We get zero notification when someone is fired at my company and it has always felt wrong to me. I don’t expect the intimate details of their firing (after all, with at-will, they can be fired for no reason and I sometimes suspect it’s merely a result of grudges with our younger staff), but it would be nice if management used it as an opportunity to revisit the employee handbook and reiterate any particular areas where they have widespread performance concerns.

      I agree that it’s totally bizarre to not know someone is fired until email goes ignored for weeks or you walk by an empty desk or office. Often, the only way I know someone has been fired is when an email goes out introducing a new staff member and the description of which office/floor they’ve been assigned to belongs to someone I thought was still a staff member. The realization is sometimes a little slow: “hmm, didn’t so-and-so used to sit there? I didn’t realize she moved to a different floor? OH NO!” I’ve always felt it shows more respect to at least acknowledge that someone was an employee, but will no longer be employed there going forward, even if their behavior was eggregious.

    4. TootsNYC*

      As an employee, I don’t really want to hear officially that Jane was on a PIP.

      I might suggest a difference of handling things that tips people off.

      Jane resigns for some new job or other
      – her manager asks HER to send a email to people saying, “Folks, I’m taking a new job / moving to Denver, and my last day will be X. Please get what you need from me before then.”
      – her manager follows that with an email that says, “As you know, Jane is leaving us. We wish her the best. We’ll be interviewing for her position / reorganizing duties / figuring out our plan. And until we hire that new person / finish our reallocation of duties, please see Fergus for teapot-shape issues and Lucinda for spout-design issues. All other issues, please bring to me.”

      Jane gets laid off for budgetary reasons:
      -her manager sends an email that says, “Unfortunately, due to budgetary reasons, we eliminated Jane’s position today. We thank her for her diligent work and wish her the best. She tells me you can find her on LinkedIn and Facebook. We’ll be reorganizing her duties shortly. Until we send out the official restructuring, please bring any issues to me.”

      Jane gets fired for not doing her job well
      -her manager sends an email that says, “Jane is no longer with the company effective today. We wish her the best as she looks for new opportunities. We’ll be interviewing for a replacement soon, and until that person is in place, please bring all handle issues to Fergus and spout issues to Lucinda. Anything that doesn’t fall in that category, please bring to me. Thanks for your help during this transition.”

      Jane gets fired for stealing or something similar:
      -her manager sends an email that says, “Jane is no longer with the company effective today. Please bring all handle issues to Fergus, spout issues to Lucinda, and other issues to me. We’ll be interviewing for a replacement soon. Thanks for your help during this transition.”

      So people can read between the lines. That -might- open you up to libel charges (if you treat people differently like this, it will become sort of clear, by code, that Jane got fired! and that may be a form of defaming her).

      But it would cover all bases.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Oh, also–I think any time someone leaves the company, that person’s immediate manager ought to gather her team and say, “OK, here’s how we’ll handle stuff.” and then either “do you have any questions?” or “I’m sure you’re wondering why Jane left so suddenly. I’m not really at liberty to say, and I’d like to ask you to keep the gossip from impacting productivity. But I want to assure you that your jobs are not in jeopardy, and that the company treated Jane fairly. We wish her well.”

  6. BananaPants*

    In my organization (around 120 people) when someone leaves due to another job offer or retirement they’re allowed to send out an email to the organization distribution list or just their colleagues if they choose, with their own message and including their personal email address to stay in touch.

    If someone leaves without an email it’s usually because they got fired. This is very unusual; frankly we haven’t been able to backfill hire since the start of the recession and managers have to fight for every hiring authorization. Most seem to figure that it’s better to keep Bob even though they only get around 2 hours of work out of him a day, because it’s not sure that they’ll be able to hire a replacement (and if they can it will be time-consuming) and Bob’s coworkers are eventually going to get fed up with having their workload increase and will bail. I’ve only seen people actually terminated for egregious misconduct.

  7. Wee*

    #1 We just had one yesterday from the HR director of our division.

    “Person’s name”, “job title”, “location” is no longer an employee of “division name” effective today. Please direct any questions to “manager’s name”.

  8. BananaPants*

    The one time in my 10+ year tenure that we did have a colleague in my group fired for performance reasons, our manager at the time held a meeting with the group to state that Wakeen had been let go due to performance (which we were all well aware of). He had been on a PIP for over 6 months and performance had actually gotten worse so the decision had been made. Our boss wanted to reassure us that nothing was happening to the rest of us.

    He did NOT get into details. Most of us already knew the details anyways, having been subjected to Wakeen’s laziness for years and witnessing it firsthand. He’d do stuff like say he was at our test facility and then never show up at all (did he not realize that there were security cameras?), he’d have huge project deliverables that just never got done with zero explanation, and he started skipping his PIP meetings with the manager and HR. They did the termination during his normally scheduled PIP meeting and didn’t show, so HR had to have security track him down and then go to the other facility where he was hiding out in order to actually terminate him. He left screaming that Boss was racist and was firing him due to being in a protected class – it was clear that the company had to very thoroughly document this pattern of behavior.

    1. eplawyer*

      What the duck? How do you skip PIP meetings and think you can keep your job? I can see doing just enough to get off the PIP then going right back to the behavior. But blowing it off then acting like it was wrong to fire you is just bizarre.

      (I know after reading this blog, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything.)

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      I love this strategy- “You can’t fire me if you can’t find me!” /runs and hides in the closet

      1. Brooke*

        Oh man, this.

        Layoffs where I work always happen on Thursdays and I swear there are certain people that take every possible Thursday off, as if that will save them.

  9. AnotherFed*

    #3 – This might jeopardize your relationship with the partner even if your husband does no business with your company. It would be a big red flag if one of my people came to me and said a variation of “My husband does XYZ work that your group does, some could be offloaded to him!” unless I had specifically been looking for that kind of help. It seems pretty unprofessional on the employee’s part – are they acting in the company’s interest or in their family’s best interest? Can the partner trust the employee to judge other professional situations appropriately? If that is the only red flag in several years of working together, then it’s easier to brush off, but if the relationship has already been growing apart, this might damage it even further.

    1. Artemesia*

      Where I worked we had to fill out huge conflict of interest paperwork every year and one of the things that was considered conflict of interest was any family member doing business with the company; it was not a government agency.

      1. Anonyby*

        Yup, when my company was bought out we had to go through something similar, including naming any and all conflicts of interest and what they were (and family members doing business with the company was also one of them). We’re also private sector.

        No idea what they did with the COI information, because I can name at least three managers off the top of my head with COI in regards to contractors under them, all of them had the COI at the time and nothing has changed. I guess the company considers the risk low enough to let them be.

  10. Delyssia*

    At an old job, they never announced when someone was fired. Whether someone was fired or quit, the only way anyone heard was through the grapevine (which tended to be pretty efficient, because the firm size was around 15 employees, give or take a few).

    However, everyone in the company had access to a shared password for some back-end website functions. The password was changed as soon as anyone left. Despite the fact that the IT guy assured us that whoever had just left was removed from the email distribution list before he sent the new password, it was still nerve-wracking to get a new password without already knowing who had left.

    1. Musereader*

      We have that, when someone gets fired the door code gets changed, so the first question when we get the email is who got fired? Other than that it may be discussed in the person’s team meeting but no email to the rest. If people leave there is usually at least a card.

  11. Academic librarian*

    I had an employee on a year plus PIP and endured multiple grievance meetings during that time. When we finally got to the termination meeting, hr let her resign that day instead if the scheduled termination. She told her colleagues that she was forced to resign. The Admin wouldn’t let me send an email with the simple statement that she was no longer at the university. After the second person from another department expressed their dissapointment on how I had managed the situation ( of course I was unable to share details) my manager announced at a an all staff meeting that if anyone had any questions they could make a one on one appointment to discuss their concerns. No one took her up Om the offer.

  12. Amber Rose*

    #3: Just to play devils advocate, our office manager’s husband runs a shop that makes all our parts for our company. It’s worked quite nicely for over a decade.

    1. A*

      Sure, but it’s not a new business starting up where who knows what the quality of the product or service will be.

      1. Zillah*

        This – and I think that the point isn’t that no employees are ever married to people who do good work, it’s that it’s difficult to address when that isn’t the case.

  13. joeee*

    I always get sketched out by anonymously hiring companies. Why not tell you their identity? You won’t get a response if you ask, because it’s intentional, and the advice on how to apply is correct… but go in knowing that they were hiding their hiring process, most likely because they’ve decided to fire someone but don’t want anyone at work to figure it out.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      Yeah, even if it’s not a scam (and Google “Craigslist job scam” to see how common that is), it’s a massive red flag for a potentially toxic work environment.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Often it’s simply because it’s a recruiting firm handling the hiring, in which case it’s typical not to list the company name. That in and of itself isn’t a red flag.

      1. De Minimis*

        I posted earlier in the thread, but I’ve also seen it very common with smaller companies with few front office staff that don’t want to risk a bunch of phone calls.

        When I lived in that city the majority of my job interviews were from blind ads. It was almost standard procedure there.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I haven’t done that sort of recruiting in a while, but when I placed an ad in the NYTimes back in 1988, I didn’t put the name of my magazine–because I didn’t want to be bombarded by people who just saw the name and decided to apply willy-nilly for other jobs there. And then I’d have to wade past those resumes to fine the ones from people w/ my skills.

        I wouldn’t want to be getting calls from all sorts of clueless people asking about the job before they even bothered to reply–I don’t have that kind of time!

        Nowadays, I have a dedicated email-list kind of way to reach people with my skillset, so I don’t need to use a broad-audience thing like the classifieds, job boards, craigslist, etc.

  14. Bacon*

    #5 – I’m surprised at AAM’s response to this one. I would expect that, since applying for a job is ideally a two-way conversation, the lack of transparency makes this opening too sketchy to pursue. Knowing the company that posts the job is one of the first steps in deciding if you’d mesh well with the work (and culture, and employees…).

    1. fposte*

      It can be sketchy, as noted upthread; also, as noted upthread, it can be a legitimate recruiter posting (and possibly a legitimate company posting as well). The possibility of the latter is too great to make a sweeping judgment about it not being worth pursuing.

  15. LavaLamp*

    They hired a guy at my work just above my manager. I’m still not sure what exactly he was supposed to do, but one morning we got the email that he was gone. The running theory was because he called the cops on another manager for ‘stealing’ when all the other manager did was take a new computer for their new employee which is perfectly reasonable. Still wish I knew the story behind that.

  16. OP #4*

    Thanks everyone for the input on my question about the anonymous job post! I had not considered that it might be an agency posting on behalf of another company–that makes a lot of sense. About a month ago, I reached out to a different anonymous company on Craigslist asking for more details about their company, and they actually did get back to me. Thanks to their response, I learned that it was a company that I had zero interest in working for, which made me glad I checked before taking the time to edit my resume and write a new cover letter.

    I am a little off-put about the possibility of it being a scam, since it is so generic… Luckily, I do have employment at the moment and another interview lined up for a totally unrelated job, so I’ve got other options if this one doesn’t work out. I’ll send them my stuff anyway, though, just in case. You never know!

  17. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

    #2 I actually disagree with Alison that it would be a good idea to approach your boss to address your “pay cut”. As someone who has managed various incentive programs, I can tell you that a lot of managers do not see bonuses and incentive pay as part of your base pay but as benefits like health insurance or flex time that can be changed at anytime.

    I would approach asking for this raise (if that’s what you plan to do) as any other discussion. Go to them with evidence as to why you are under market rate, how you are helping the company, and what rate fits in the new market. Leave the bonus out of it.

    Bonuses are like any other incentive. Most people wouldn’t suggest that you ask your manager for a raise just because they increased the cost of health insurance, and bonuses really are in the same boat as other benefits IMO.

    1. Koko*

      I’m curious whether there’s a difference between, “We had a strong year, so as a thank-you for your hard work, here is a bonus roughly equivalent to one month’s pay,” bonuses and, “You hit 65% of your annual targets and therefore earned 65% of the potential bonus this year, which is roughly equivalent to three months’ pay.”

      I would see the first more like a benefit and the latter more as a part of regular compensation, both because of it representing a much larger share of the total annual income (20% vs 7.5%) and because of it being tied to specific targets instead of a sort of share-the-wealth arbitrary amount.

  18. Michelle*

    OP #1, just make sure you don’t send out that email before you’ve told the employee who is being fired. And then accidentally include that employee in the email. While he’s in the hospital with his wife who is having a baby. That was not the communication we expected from my husband’s employer on the day of our daughter’s birth. :(

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