how do I respond to employees asking if they should be worried about an upcoming bad-news meeting?

A reader writes:

I recently had to schedule a meeting in which I had to tell my team some bad news, that their contracts would be ending in a few months (a decision that was out of my hands but still mine to announce). I tried not to send the meeting invitation too far in advance (so they wouldn’t stew too much), but still needed some buffer time because of conflicting schedules and making sure everyone was aware the meeting was happening. I also tried to make the meeting description vague while still making it clear that it was about their contracts.

About an hour before the meeting, one of my employees sent me a message asking if they should be worried about the meeting. Obviously, it wasn’t going to be a meeting they’d enjoy, but I also couldn’t tell that to my employee before the meeting actually began. I tried to stay non-committal, but did say something like nobody was getting fired that day, which I realize was a semantic dodge, and during the meeting the employee was unhappy with how I’d handled that exchange. (The meeting was unsurprisingly an unpleasant one, but that was to be expected, given the topic.)

What’s the right way to respond to someone who asks if they should expect bad news, when there will in fact be bad news, but you don’t want them to know yet?

I wish people wouldn’t do this. I understand why people do this, but I still wish they wouldn’t. Often it’s reassurance-seeking behavior — they want to hear “no, there’s nothing to worry about” — without thinking through that it may be unrealistic to expect an answer if whatever’s happening is bad.

I think you had two reasonable choices when you got that message. One was simply not to respond since it was only an hour before the meeting; it’s not implausible that you were busy with other things during that time (if you’d been in another meeting then, for instance, it would have been unreasonable to expect a response). The other option was to say something like, “We’ll talk at the meeting” or “Let’s wait for the meeting and I’ll fill you in then.” Most people are going to read that as an indicator that the news isn’t good, and that can be a problem if you say it days in advance — that’s a lot of time for rumors to fly without real info — but it’s not unworkable when you’ll be talking later that day.

This was a situation that affected your whole team, but this also comes up with one-on-one meetings with people — like if you’re meeting to talk about problems in someone’s work and they ask ahead of time, “Is it good or bad?” or “Should I be concerned?” or similar. In general, managers should try to let people know what a meeting will be about (so that people can prepare and also because some people get anxious otherwise), but there are times when it really doesn’t make sense to announce it ahead of time. You often can say something like “I want to talk about how the X project is going” or “I want to talk about some concerns I have about X” or “I want to make sure we’re on the same page about Y.” But there are other times when you really can’t give a heads-up without essentially delivering the news in the invitation itself and it’s news you really want to deliver live (so they can ask questions on the spot, etc.). So there are times when people really do need to roll with it and tolerate some uncertainty until the meeting — and I’d use the same responses if it comes up in this kind of context too.

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. bubbleon*

    I can understand why the employee might be upset about the dodge, but with only an hour between that conversation and your meeting I don’t know what else they could have expected. It isn’t as if you’d been lying to them for weeks and they made plans or a major purchase based on an assumption that everything was fine. If you’d told them an hour ahead of time “yeah you’re being let go”, what could they have done with that information? Either sat on the information, unable to talk about it (not ideal) or told the rest of the team before you (less ideal), I just don’t see a benefit to them knowing at that point. You’re right that it was a semantic dodge that no one was getting fired *today*, but it’s also probably the more urgent truth if you already know the meeting is about your contract.

    1. Cat Tree*

      My read is that the employee is (understandably) upset about the outcome of the meeting and is latching onto that specific interaction as an outlet to express their frustration.

      1. Allypopx*

        That’s my read too. I think they’d also be upset if the OP didn’t respond to their email, which is what I probably would have done. I don’t think this was the best response but that happens, and I don’t think there would have been an “okay” response in the employee’s eyes.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Yeah, I think any response that wasn’t followed by GOOD news at the meeting would have gotten a negative reaction from that employee!

      2. kiki*

        I agree. There really isn’t a great way to respond to that question in this situation and all around this whole thing isn’t going to leave any employee feeling great. It just all sucks.

  2. ThatGirl*

    It’s funny – I never used to worry about that sort of thing; I spent about 9 years at a company that would have layoffs every so often, and usually they were announced in advance — they would tell people the date, everyone would sit around nervously that day, the affected people were generally tapped on the shoulder by HR and taken to a room, then an email would go out letting people know it was over. So one week when our dept head announced a mandatory meeting for everyone coming up on a Friday, and that nobody should work remotely that day, I didn’t think much of it. But I had pre-arranged to have that day as PTO and had a flight booked, so I let my manager know I wouldn’t be there. No problem, he said, we’ll touch base Thursday before you leave. Everyone was buzzing about this meeting, but I wasn’t too worried, because why would they change how they did things all of a sudden?

    …and then I got laid off the evening before most of the rest of my dept (about 20 people, they left only one person per team) and was told I was sworn to secrecy for 24 hours under threat of losing my severance. So that was interesting. Even so, worrying about it ahead of time probably wouldn’t have changed anything.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      When I was laid off the meeting invite subject was really close to an actual project I was working on (Global Reorg Discussion when I was working on a global accounting restructure for a new financial system) so I accepted and didn’t give it another thought. I was absolutely blindsided because even though we knew Covid layoffs were coming, my boss had told me repeatedly that my job was secure.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I also got laid off back in November, right after the company repeatedly told us that while we were reorganizing, it was barely going to affect anyone’s jobs and most jobs would be lost through attrition. And then they laid off 80 people (about 20% of the workforce in that office). So that was also crappy, but I only had about 2 hrs heads-up and was at home, by myself, freaking out to the dog.

        1. Exhausted Trope*

          That Girl, sounds exactly like what happened at my oldjob!
          We discussed the reorg for months and were told people’s job titles would change but that’s it. No mention of layoffs.
          Then on a Friday morning in November, while I was hard at work, I looked up to see our newly installed department director beckoning me to HR. You can guess what happened.
          There was quite the bloodbath that day and next week and for several months until about 75% of the staff was let go. I was one of the lucky ones who got a good severance package. Others who were let go later got nothing.

        2. I'm just here for the cats*

          Sounds similar to an old job I had. Worked at a Call center for Big Time Cellphone carrier. Our site was specific and did specialized call service. We were the only ones in that did this. Well, our center (3rd party we didn’t actually work for the cell company) was bought out by another company. Everything was fine. Then our trainers were sent down to Kentucky (I think it’s been too long) to train people down there. Then we learn that the new center in Kentucky is going to be doing some of our specialty calls “Too help out”. Keep in mind we had been the only call center to do these calls for like 5 years with no problems. A few months later they let us know that the company has decided to close our center. The reasoning they gave to everyone, including the media, “we want to consolidate our centers”. The real reason? The new company didn’t want to pay the higher wages of what we had. Under the old policy you started out at $10/hour then after training, you were bumped up to $10.50. Plus if you worked nights (after 7 and/or weekends you go extra. Also got an extra $.25 for every year you worked there. I don’t recall what the supervisor’s pay structure was but it was really decent. I had a friend that was a supervisor there and I got all the gossip. The new company didn’t want to pay anyone, including supervisors and upper management, more than $10/hour. So they started a new center where a $7 desk job is a dream job and there were a lot of unemployed people.

          On top of all of that, they close the center 3 weeks before they were supposed too, and locked people out who weren’t at work yet. So people who worked the later shift came to work to a locked, dark building and no one to call.

          1. Chantel*

            This is why I scratch my head over why people vote against unionizing. What you write is how things are everywhere, and people cheer it like they’ve won the lottery.


          2. JustaTech*

            When I first started in biotech I temped at a place that was on the rocks. One day there was an all-hands meeting and everyone was freaking out (assuming we were all about to get laid off). We weren’t (we actually got a bonus for not quitting) but afterwards all the stories came out.

            The most outrageous story was of one place that took everyone to a long lunch, and then when they walked back to the office the doors were padlocked shut. The folks that worked there got the contents of their desks mailed to them.

      2. Mommy Shark*

        Similar thing to me. Mine was booked as a “one on one” which we did monthly anyways. I was told my job was secure, no layoffs had happened, etc. HR joined the (virtual) conference call and boom, let go.

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          I got terminated from my first professional job at the normal time of my 1 on 1 with my manager. While we were walking from my office to his, he said “let’s meet in a different room today” and when we got there, an HR representative was there waiting for us with the paperwork.

      3. Shan*

        When my last company went under, it had been a long time coming, and we all knew that we were going to be let go eventually. They’d given us all a general timeline of when we could expect to be let go, and my group had been told “end of the year” But mid-week in September, my coworker got a meeting request for the following day titled “Touch Base Meeting,” assumed it had to do with the project he was working on, and then the next morning had our VP and a guy from HR walk in and fire him before they’d even fully shut the door (I know because I got to hear it all from the office beside his).

        On the other hand, when I got my invite two months later, it was very upfront, which I really appreciated. I’d already been informally told when my final day would be and had lined up another job, so the meeting was very relaxed and just about getting my package information.

      4. Lego Leia*

        Your boss telling you that your job was secure was a jerk move on their part! Of course you were blindsided.

    2. Oryx*

      At my ExJob, which was a career college, our location was absorbed by another location and it had been in the works for awhile so some of the management had known for weeks and couldn’t tell anyone. The announcement also came right after the teaching staff returned from their winter break: so they’d had a week off and then we all got called into the auditorium where they dropped the news that a good portion of the staff were going to be let go because there wasn’t enough need to transfer everyone over. So over the next few months, until it was all finalized, it was a lot of waiting to see what would happen with everyone.

      Our campus president started working primarily at the other location, which meant that every time he was at our campus everyone was freaking out because the only reason he ever showed up was to let people know they were losing their job. (I was transferred, but ooof. I still remember those days when it was a lot of “Oh f*ck, Gary is here today.”)

  3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I would reiterate whatever the vague meeting invitation first said and then lather rinse repeat: “I’m going to update everyone on your contracts and answer any questions. I don’t want to start the conversation until everyone is available, so no one is left out.”

      1. Kevin Sours*

        While I’m not sure there is a good way to handle things, if I got that response I’d probably spend the intervening time updating my resume.

        Some times I think it’s better to be more forthcoming about bad news meetings than people typically are simply because while there isn’t a good way to handle them it’s also really hard to keep people from figuring it out ahead of time. People notice things. And more transparency makes it less likely you’ll inadvertently make people think they’re about to be laid off when they aren’t.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I had a surprise meeting like that once. Turns out they were reclassifying a bunch of positions (including mine). Getting laid off would have actually been preferable in my case.

          Since I’ve left, my old position has been re-reclassified. Guess it didn’t work out. (Petty Charlotte laughs evilly.)

        2. Alexander Graham Yell*

          People notice things, but I also wouldn’t want one person to get the news ahead of everybody and spread it so they come in terrified/angry/irritated that the news didn’t come directly from their manager like it should have. The purpose of these meetings is to *be* forthcoming about bad news, not to hide it, but also to give everybody the news at the same time so they’re all getting all the facts available to them.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Once you schedule the meeting the facts are getting out. And if not then the “facts” are getting out. That’s what you are up against. The main advantage of providing more information — to everybody — in the initial meeting announcement is that it prevents people from assuming that every vaguely worded meeting announcement is dire.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              Right. You can smell the badness in the air, as it were. People will deduce something is bad, they will be wondering HOW bad.

            2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

              I mean, if you already know the company is floundering sure, an all-hands meeting to discuss contracts would probably tip everyone off; but if everyone knew the business was doing great, you might be inclined to think there was a bonus for everyone, or all contracts are being renewed for 2 years instead of 6 months, or contracts are converting to full-time employment with benefits…

        3. Lavender Menace*

          Generally, I agree with you. I hate this kind of ambiguity and it makes me really anxious (like medical-grade anxious).

          BUT. I’m new-ish to managing, and now I feel like I understand it a little more. Especially when something affects an entire team, sometimes you really do want everyone in the same room to hear the same messaging at the same time. I’ve learned you can’t really control whether rumors are spread (because people talk to each other, as they should) but you do have some influence over how much content the rumors have from leadership. I’ve seen situations in which the rumor mill has inflated something to be way worse than it actually is, or got people all riled up before they got the chance to hear the explanation, or was just flat-out wrong. All of that can be way more damaging than people feeling some anxiety or pessimism before the meeting.

    1. Willis*

      This makes sense…I especially like your second sentence when it’s a meeting that is impacting a group of people.

      The bottom line is, there’s no way to invite someone to a meeting where they’ll be laid off in way that’s going to make them feel good about it (assuming, of course, they don’t want to be laid off). If you present it as a routine meeting, then they’re blind-sided. If you give a hint about the topic like OP did, people are stressed out beforehand. If you tell people its bad news ahead of time, you’re giving out partial info, rumors fly, and people are still stressed. I feel like the OP’s way is the least bad among the bad options.

      1. Arvolin*

        At my second favorite job, I heard one night after work that there would be layoffs. I wasn’t working on a vital project at the time, and I figured I was likely going to be laid off. I spent the early morning setting things up so I would be able to leave as easily as possible (there was some semi-personal stuff on my work computer), and was not surprised at all to be called into a meeting, and I correctly figured the purpose. The meeting made me feel better about the process, as I had a great deal of respect for some of the people there: if they were laying Wakeen off, I definitely had no reason to take that as a reflection on my ability.

        At my favorite, there was an all-hands meeting by surprise one morning before I got to work, and a follow-up meeting for the department that I was there for. It turned out to be a surprising and good new development for the business. Two of us commented that, the last time we’d been in such a surprise meeting, we left it without a job.

    2. Cedarthea*

      As someone who is anxious about meetings, this would be helpful for me. I would have a sense of the context but understand not to push further and that the understood it was an important conversation.

      For me it is the unknown that makes me spiral, but to know that it is about contracts would at least limit me to what could be going on. I might understand that my contract won’t be renewed but it would limit my anxiety.

      1. PunkRock PM*

        I get anxious as well – it doesn’t help that I’ve worked in numerous toxic / hostile work environments where the vagueness was the norm to keep you terrified. Management by terror and uncertainty.

        I finally had a great people leader who would give some sort of context, which was refreshing and made me realize that a lot of people feel like me AND there are people out there who get it.

        My new goal as I am job hunting is to be more aware of how to weed out those terrible managers (I refuse to call them leaders – that is title is earned) before I accept any positions.

    3. Dick Hoelscher*

      “I’m going to update everyone on your contracts and answer any questions.”

      You could probably tell everyone the good news over e-mail, so this announcement leaves no reason to assume that the contract was fully renewed. I would start packing my bags on this e-mail.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I think that’s a reasonable outcome, though, right? Like, it is bad news — if the manager is going to answer the “should I be worried?” email at all, the answer is going to be either “yes” or “let’s talk about it later,” which anyone who was already worried enough to ask whether they should be worried will interpret as “yes”. I think the best-case scenario here is that you get an answer that gives you a general idea of how worried you should be, so a reply that prompts you to start packing your bags and updating your resume is… about the best you can do.

  4. Aggretsuko*

    I don’t know what to say here. I’m going to be terrified before one of those meetings anyway, and when there’s good reason to be terrified, which is clearly the case here… if you can’t be reassuring, they are going to be in fear without knowing why, or they can be in fear kind of knowing why. Either way, justified fear.

    1. ThatGirl*

      It’s just one of those things, unfortunately. It does help when managers communicate as much as they can, especially when meetings ARE harmless/not about staffing or layoffs or what have you. But even the best managers can’t just tell you you’re about to be laid off, and what good would it do if they could?

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          But the whole point of the meeting is to communicate that information, often with HR support, and potentially to a group of people all at once so that everyone can ask questions and have the same information. Of course someone could say “hey that meeting for later – you’re being laid off” but no one is going to drop it there, and now you’re having the conversation that the meeting was for, without everyone who was supposed to be there.

          There’s no good way to tell someone their job is going away. Nothing really makes that better (although we’ve certainly heard stories here where it’s done much *worse*).

        2. TechWorker*

          ‘There is no rule saying they can’t’ – well… managers are often aware of information before their whole team (not just layoffs, but raises, bonus info, team moves, etc etc). Those things take time to plan and might need input from management, but a company might also (reasonably!) want to tell everybody affected at once. Your manager might have some information before it’s confirmed or before *their* management has okayed sharing it. I really don’t think it’s true that managers delay people telling stuff because they want to rather than because there is reason to (and it’s often not directly their decision anyway…)

        3. Sweet Christmas*

          Actually, sometimes we can’t. Some companies policies require a manager to have HR there, or go through a specific process with HR, before/while announcing layoff and firing decisions.

          But even if we could…that’s not always the best choice. Many people don’t want to get a Slack message or email message from their manager saying “Hey, you’re laid off.” What good is telling scheduling a “K’s Layoff Meeting” on the calendar and saying “you’re being laid off on Friday; this meeting is to formalize that and talk about next steps with HR”? Is it better to spend Monday through Thursday wondering what the meeting is about, or freaking out because you know you’re being laid off and you have to wait until Friday to talk about it with someone who can answer your questions?

          When I have to deliver hard new to someone, as much as possible I want to look them in the eye and tell them so they can hear it straight from me – so I can provide support and answer follow-up questions. I hate the ambiguity, but unfortunately sometimes there are no good options, only less bad ones.

          1. Nia*

            I don’t understand what the problem is with an email saying you’re being laid off as of date, here’s a link to information about severance, and if you have any questions let me know. I know if I was being laid off that depending on the reason it would be several hours to several days before I could interact with my boss without shouting.

            1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

              I mean, everyone is different I guess, but I would hazard to guess that many, if not the vast majority of, people would absolutely be appalled to be laid off via email. That would absolutely earn someone a place in the annual “worst boss” contest because it’s so cold and callous.

              I think the easiest way to handle it is a quick meeting to announce the high level details (effective date, whether there is a severance package), give the employee time to process, then meet again the next day to go over the finer details.

            2. Chantel*

              >I don’t understand what the problem is with an email saying you’re being laid off



              1. Nia*

                Yes seriously. There is nothing kind about forcing me to attempt to interact civiliy with the person who just upended my life. There is nothing that could be said in such a meeting that would make me feel better and in fact most things that could be said would simply make it worse. An email that I had time to deal with privately would be my preference.

                1. just saying*

                  Umm I’d recommend checking your company’s policies. If it says “at will”, I’d recommend revising this hard-line stance. Your employer can “upend” your life at any moment – so best to have a realistic mindset for how to handle that like an adult.

                2. eddddddz*

                  I agree with you! I know its not the most common preference but I prefer to get bad news in text so I don’t have to react under pressure. I’d also prefer to be broken up with via text or email, but apparently no one else feels that way.

                3. allathian*

                  Absolutely me too. I would want to have a discussion aftewards to go over the details, but I would definitely appreciate the opportunity to react to the news in private, without feeling like I have to manage my manager’s emotions because they’re feeling bad because they have to deliver the bad news.

                  In my location, there’s no such thing as at-will employment, so I know my employer can’t just fire me without cause. And even with cause, there’d be plenty of warning, unless I did something truly egregious that would probably also be a criminal offence. Layoffs involve notice periods, mine’s 2 months.

            3. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

              I actually did layoffs like this last summer. We’re nearly 100% remote (even before the pandemic) so obviously giving the news in person was out of the question. I had a hunch that the employees affected might be upset about the news, and I wanted to give them the ability to process before meeting with them.

              Here’s what I did: I sent my employees an email stating what was happening. Immediately after I sent them a Slack DM telling them to check their email for an important update from me and also offered to meet with them.

              If there hadn’t been so much anxiety wrapped up in the layoffs, I might have done it differently. But it felt cruel to give someone the news over a Zoom call with no heads up.

              1. ThatGirl*

                I got laid off in November over Teams. Because we were all WFH, word started spreading over Skype IM that morning – first one team got gutted, then another, then another… so when a meeting invitation from the assistant to the SVP appeared in my email, I knew what it was, even though there was no official word. Having time to “prepare” didn’t really help me, I just freaked out for an hour or so. But it was nice to be able to be alone afterwards and process a little.

                That said, I don’t really understand all of these people who say “yes, my manager should tell me before the meeting” — I have never worked in a company where layoffs worked that way. The closest I’ve seen is as I described elsewhere, that it was a big enough public company that they had to announce a date layoffs would be happening.

            4. Librarian1*

              If I were laid off like that, I would be furious. How dare they just do it over email?

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Here in France we have a very specific, and complex procedure to be followed. The employee has to know that the meeting is about being fired/made redundant, so that they can prepare their case, find out about their rights and have a union representative by their side. So there’s no suspense, except that they might not know the reasons for being terminated.

        4. Philosophia*

          Right. “[E]ven the best managers can’t just tell you you’re about to be laid off, and what good would it do if they could?” Managers might be under a prohibition from higher-ups, but otherwise, why on earth can’t they come out with the truth? It would be less cruel to the employees than leaving them on tenterhooks, and the topic of the meeting would then be the terms and conditions of the layoff.

        5. Beth*

          There often is a rule! If a higher-up has made a decision about how and when the news will be delivered, an individual manager generally won’t be allowed to counteract that and could receive serious consequences for spreading sensitive and potentially disruptive news ahead of time.

    2. Ama*

      Yeah, the tell-tale sign that something big and personnel related just happened at my workplace (layoffs, firing, a C-level person leaving unexpectedly) is that an all-staff meeting invite appears on everyone’s calendar with less than a week’s notice and no subject.

      Granted, they don’t put it on the calendar until they’ve talked to both the people being laid off (who are already out of the office by the time the meeting happens) and anyone who works closely with them, so if the invite is the first sign of trouble, your job is fine, but having survived a couple C-level changes in this manner I will never stop getting nervous about what new adjustments we’re about to make.

      1. LizM*

        In my organization, if I get an invite from our senior leadership called “Discussion” or “Coordination”, there is nothing that will settle my anxiety.

    3. Beth*

      Yes, I feel like this is one of those things where there is no right answer. From the employee’s side, I actually think it’s a reasonable thing to ask. If it’s not a bad thing, you’ll probably get reassurance, and if it is bad news, well, at least you’re internally prepared for bad news.

      From the manager’s side, it’s nice to be able to offer reassurance when you can. If it’s going to be bad, though, you don’t want to give false reassurances (OP, I think you’d have been better off either not replying or staying totally noncommittal here; I can’t blame your employee for being upset about your semantic dodge). But you also can’t necessarily to spill the beans early if things aren’t in place for the news to spread. The least-worst option might just be to stay very neutral and not give any info when you can’t share, knowing that people will (probably correctly) assume this means it is in fact bad.

    1. Mentil Lentil*

      If that’s your default response every time this situation occurs, people will soon train themselves to not bother to ask you, because they know you are going to give out any spoilers. You’ve got to be consistent, though.

      (It works with middle schoolers, so I’m thinking it should work with adults, but that’s a crazy assumption on my part.)

      1. Philosophia*

        Treating adults like children is a fine management practice.
        Actually, treating children like dogs is a fine adult practice, too.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, that’s right. If you can keep yourself from spilling good (or neutral) news, that would help.

        We get semi-regular communication from our big boss, and the subject line is always “Message from VP” or something, and I’m sure it’s for this reason. Whether it’s an extra day off, a new senior hire, layoffs, whatever, it’s just “Message from VP.”

  5. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

    This reminds me of a much worse bungling at a women’s media company I once worked at: An email went out one morning announcing there would be lay-offs then meetings were put on people’s calendars going to the early afternoon. So people just sat around clearing their desks waiting to be fired for hours.

    1. Malarkey01*

      Ohhh I had something even goofier happen. We got emails late Thursday that layoffs were coming, meetings would be set up on Friday to break the news, and then I got one of these invites labeled “Layoff Notice and Details”. So CRAP I’m losing my job, I go in Friday and like everyone else am packing up my desk, sending quick emails to my outside contacts, even let a former manager at another company know so I could jumpstart job searching before the others in my office. Throughout the morning people are called in, get the news, come out, and leave (it was a leave immediately deal).
      My meeting comes …and it’s with about a dozen of us….we aren’t laid off, are assuming the work, and they just wanted us to know what was happening. So back to unpack the desk, and sit around saying what idiot thought that was the right way to tell us?

      1. Cat Tree*

        I had a similar experience. The manufacturing plant was finally closing (there had been rumors for years), so they pulled everyone into the auditorium to announce it. After the announcement, everyone got an envelope with their end date. But there was no envelope on the table for me! So I asked someone visiting from corporate and they said I got a special in-person meeting… the next day. I stewed about it all day and night, thinking I would be let go immediately. Instead, it was an offer for me to stay employed and actually accept a position at their shiny new plant. I still don’t know if it was incompetence or outright manipulation, but they absolutely should have had that conversation with me the same day.

        I ended up accepting the offer to transfer but left for a different company before that happened. That place was super toxic, and I found out later that my boss knew about the closure when she hired me a year previously (but of coursedidn’t tell me). And the company recruited me, so it’s not like I even went to them looking for a job. So either it was a long con, or gross incompetence. Neither option is a good look.

        1. PT*

          I worked somewhere that was going through the permitting process for a construction project. We had people who worked in different zones/departments of the building (say, the llama barn, the teapot painting studio) and part of the construction project involved closing some of those departments to rebuild their facilities. It did not take a genius to realize that if they were tearing down the llama facilities and rebuilding it, there would be no llama department for the duration of the construction project, and the same for the teapot painting studio, etc. So people were understandably nervous, both staff and customers, that they would be laid off and that they would need to go elsewhere as customers while the llama facilities were closed.

          They decided that the best solution was to put a gag order on it. The permitting meetings were public record due to the city’s rules, but they decided to threaten any staff who got involved with disciplinary action. Staff weren’t allowed to discuss it; if a customer asked about it staff had to lie.

          Management chose to handle it by putting up a flyer every month or two that said, “We can guarantee we will be open another 45/60/90 days.” and nothing more. Everyone was terrified for their jobs and started leaving: customers started leaving in droves, figuring they were going to have to find somewhere new to get their llama groomed and their teapots painted when the building closed anyway.

          Management was angry. Now they were short staffed AND their customers were leaving! And the construction project probably wasn’t going to even happen so why was everyone being so dramatic??

          The kicker, they didn’t get all of the permits in line for SIXTEEN MONTHS after they put up that first “We can guarantee we will be open for…” flyer that caused everyone to flee. They’d done almost a full turnover of their staff and customers in that time.

      2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        But if you had been one of the people laid off, you might have appreciated the advance notice.

    2. turquoisecow*

      My old company went through a massive reorganization and layoff. A good number of us were in a training meeting (for what turned out to be our new jobs, we thought it was just cross training at the time), and people who were not in the meeting were laid off during that meeting.

      After that, we were each told our new roles and bosses, and then the department admin invited us all to a feel good meeting explaining the new set up. Except one woman.

      She called the department admin wanting to know why she didn’t get invited. Office manager didn’t know, she was just sending the email to the people she was told to send it to. She suggested asking her boss. The woman didn’t know who her new boss was, so she asked her old boss. Who didn’t have a clue so he asked his boss.

      And he went around and finally she ended up getting let go at 4:30pm.

      It ended up being a good thing since she took a company shuttle to the train that left at 5:00, and if she’d been let go in the morning with everyone else she would have had to call a cab or something, but it was still crazy that they basically forgot about her.

      1. Regular Human Accountant*

        I wonder if she could have kept her job if she’d just stayed quiet! Just fly under the radar, continuing to come into the office and collect paychecks . . .

    3. NYWeasel*

      At Old Job, we lived under threat of layoffs for 2-3 years. Eventually we knew all the jobs would shift to the mothership, but it was unclear of the timing, if any jobs could be done remotely, etc. In the meantime, every 6 months or so, 2-3 more people would quietly get ushered out.

      In January of the Last Year, the head of our division stood up and announced that for the next year there wouldn’t be any changes, and wasn’t it great, because what company could promise THAT?! Which made it all the more frustrating in April when they announced that the marketing team was going to have a series of 1:1 discussions to talk about their readiness to relocate, etc. The explanation about the January promise? “Things Change.” I wasn’t part of that team so my boss and I assumed we would be in a later phase.

      Then in May we all got a meeting invite at 5pm for a 9am meeting. No distribution lists—every name hand added to the meeting, so we knew it was bad news. The meeting kicked off with Mothership LT telling us that the department head had been fired. (His assistant screamed bc no one had told her), and then we were told to go back to our desks and that there would be meeting invites for each of us to find out our fate. Early am meetings were immediately let go, lunchtime were to the end of the year, and those of us in the afternoon were asked if we wanted to stay on. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had with layoffs, and I’ve gone through them multiple times.

      There’s no GOOD way to tell someone they are getting laid off, but there are definitely WORSE ways to do it!

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        I worked for a large public library system that announced publicly it was doing layoffs/reduction in forces. Staff were told it would be phone calls on Friday afternoon. You lived in fear of the phone ringing. I was at least off that day and got the call at home; I had colleagues who got their call on the public service desk while we were open. So the concept of “there are no good ways to do layoffs but there are worse ways” absolutely resonates with me. (We were also essentially given 2 weeks notice, so it wasn’t immediate. I actually appreciated being able to hand off my projects but I think I was in the minority on that.)

        1. Cat Tree*

          When I was laid off in 2011, it wasn’t a surprise because it had been happening for several years at that point. The way they did it is that an HR rep and the person’s manager came to the person’s office around 9 a.m. and just did it. There was no meeting scheduled so there was nothing to stew about for hours or days. They showed up with some paperwork and then you turned in your badge and went home. There’s no good way to do it, but that seems like the least bad way.

          1. WellRed*

            Yep! Sorry to
            Mgt if that’s more time consuming but don’t schedule vague group layoffs in advance.

        2. Polly Hedron*

          Yeah, here’s one WORSE way: a company where I used to work had an April 1 layoff.
          One guy didn’t believe his supervisor or his department head so they had to find his division head to get him to believe them.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      And I just discovered a weird shortcut to post inadvertently while trying to edit a thought. Kindly disregard.

      1. Sweet Christmas*

        Actually this response was both funny and true, so I think the shortcut was serendipitous :D

  6. Van Wilder*

    This was me when my college boyfriend IM’d me: “I’m going to stop by after class tomorrow. We need to talk.” (He actually said that and yes it was a break up.)

    1. wittyrepartee*

      I once responded to that with “if this is about a breakup, please just call me”. Cue phone ringing.

      But honestly, I was grateful.

    2. Person*

      I always feel so conflicted about these kinds of things because on the one hand dreading a serious conversation that’s announced early is awful for everyone involved, but on the other hand, expecting a normal visit and being blindsided by a serious conversation sucks too. I usually try to give a heads up when I want to talk with someone about something serious but I know that causes anxiety. I never know what to do!

      1. Van Wilder*

        I was always a fan of the phone break up, in my youth. I suppose kids today would say that a phone break up is callous and just send them a text!

    3. Ele4phant*

      So I’ve come around on “how very serious conversations must be handled” of late.

      I used to think they must always be done in person, unless that’s literally impossible.

      We sadly had to make Covid layoff last summer. We obviously could not do them in person. They were done via video chat, and some people turned their cameras off, and it did get back to us that having the choice to break down and not be seen was a small comfort. I got laid off in the 2008 recession, and walking out of that conference and having to face all my coworkers eyes did suck.

      On a personal note – I had a friend who is struggling with infertility and I wasn’t sure how to break it to her I was pregnant. Another friend who had been down the infertility road herself suggested I text her – that would give her the space to react and respond in her own time and not put her on the spot if I told in person or even over the phone.

    4. Tafadhali*

      My college girlfriend(/roommate) emailed me that we needed to talk while I was finishing up an all-nighter for the first assignment due during exam week. I decided it was better not to ask if I should be worried until I finished writing my conclusion. (Needless to say, I had to get extensions on most of my other final papers. Don’t start dating a person you share a dorm room with, kids.)

      1. Van Wilder*

        That’s good advice for the kids out there.

        I had ANOTHER college boyfriend say, when I started asking him where this was going, “Oh, uh, we’ll talk about it after finals. I don’t want to stress you out.”

  7. Midwestern Weegie*

    I was in this position a few months back- I had really terrible news (company bankruptcy) and my direct report asked if she should be worried. I didn’t want to lie, so I said “there’s some company-wide issues we need to talk about, but it’s not related in any way to your performance”. It was as good a balance as I could come up with on the spot, considering we were all losing our jobs.

    It sucked.

    1. Mentil Lentil*

      This is a great approach. You did an awesome job here.

      I’m sorry for what happened to you. I hope that you and your report have been able to bounce back.

  8. Roscoe*

    I think its a bit odd that you are saying it puts the person in a bad position. Oh, the people getting fired should feel bad for the person that is firing them, or I guess technically just terminating their contract? Like, I understand the sentiment of how you might not get an honest answer, but saying it puts the other person in a bad position, when that person is keeping their job, seems a bit tone deaf

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nah, it’s not about feeling bad for the person laying them off! It’s about recognizing that they’re creating a situation where there may be no answer that can be given and/or could end up stressing them out more. I’ll see if I can figure out a way to reword that to make it clearer.

      Also, for what it’s worth, if you’re not getting laid off at this meeting, you still need to have a relationship with the manager and being someone who doesn’t make difficult-news meetings more fraught often means you’ll hear difficult news more quickly.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        ” . . . being someone who doesn’t make difficult-news meetings more fraught often means you’ll hear difficult news more quickly.”

        Truth. I think at nearly every job I’ve had, there’s been that One Person who hears everything last because everyone else wants to avoid setting off some sort of reaction from them.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        For someone in that position though, the chance that the reply would be “oh sorry, no nothing major, just need to connect on xyz project” is worth the extra stress (how much extra is it if they’re already so concerned about the meeting)

        Really though in the end, bad news is bad news…there’s no great way to deliver this sort of thing

        1. Qwerty*

          I’ve learned to stop giving responses like this because it ends up feeding into the anxiety cycle. If anything, having the occasional meeting whose description was a little vague or regular standing meetings that can be repurposed help out more, since team members are used to these things ranging from good news, boring stuff, “could-have-been-an-email”, or bad news.

          1. Dan*

            ITA. IMHO, the only real way to stop feeding the anxiety cycle is in the vein that you describe — create an environment over time that doesn’t amplify the anxiety.

            If a manager has the MO of putting detailed info in invites for “benign” meetings, and vague info for “bad news” meetings, then over time any vague meeting is going to be greeted with “here comes the bad news.”

            I came into my professional career from a blue collar environment where most last minute “can you talk for a minute” meetings were carpet dances of one form or another. It took a long time in my professional career for me to realize that when my boss “wants to talk when you have time” he means… he wants to talk about some technical detail on a project that he doesn’t understand and wants my insights on. On the rare chance it’s bad news, well so be it and I had no idea it was coming.

            As you note, to stop the anxiety cycle, one needs to establish the pattern over time.

    2. Smithy*

      While in this case the news is about someone with more power telling contractors about their tenure being closed out – I think it’s easier to think about this when it happens in the other direction as well.

      The most common example I can think of is if you ask your manager if they’re free for a meeting that day and they ask you if they should be worried/you’re going to give your notice. Not only does that specific situation put someone in an awkward position, but if the news is something like announcing a health diagnosis or family issue that will require accommodation – again, it just makes the situation uncomfortable.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, this is a good example. And even if it is about giving notice, most people want to feel prepared going in to that conversation. They don’t want to be put in a situation where they have to announce it casually while passing their manager in the hall in response to her question about an upcoming meeting you asked for.

        1. Smithy*

          Exactly – even if the news is ultimately very cordial, there’s still the points of when someone’s last day is, priority projects closing/handover, etc.

          Also, times when I’ve asked for that meeting for bad personal news it’s wildly awful to for the manager to ask about “bad news” that is in the vein of moving on from a job compared to a scary diagnosis or passing of a relative. Not to mention, if someone is looking for the right kind of space and time (a private conference room, the end of the day, Zoom/phone vs IM, etc.) that works for them to discuss distressing news and then feels rushed to share in advance…..that helps no one.

      2. hbc*

        See also: my boss blurting out “You’re not pregnant, are you?” when I had to leave work early for an appointment. My options were lying, being evasive, or telling the truth waaaay too early.

        1. DKMA*

          I’d have gone with accusatorily evasive: “Seriously John? I’m not answering that out of principle”

      3. LQ*

        I think this is a really good way to highlight why this is wrong. This is one of the things my boss actually does well, I’ve had a few times where I’ve said (what seemed like ominously) “I need to put some time to talk with you on the calendar” and the answer is always, that’s fine. Never even “about what?” because if I had wanted to say about the teapot project I would have. If I’m not saying then I’m indicating that I want to talk in a room(online) with a closed door not over email or in a conference call.

      4. Sweet Christmas*

        Yeah, this. Actually, my management experience has made me less prone to anxiety and actually reduces my need to ask people what it is ahead of time. If one of my team members was like “Hey Manager, can I talk to you about something important?” or “Do you have free time to chat?” I just…assume that I’m going to hear whatever they have to tell me when we have time to meet, and keep myself busy until then.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      It’s a rude question. I get that it sucks for the person/people receiving bad news, but knowing that there is a set time and place for answering this exact question and intentionally ignoring the protocol of waiting for the meeting, it’s pretty confrontational, awkward, and self-serving. Even if the news were good — they’re announcing everyone gets a bonus — you don’t get to demand they tell YOU RIGHT NOW, what they are planning on telling everyone else later. And in a lay-off, or business shutting down, or salaries being cut… it’s not a given that the manager delivering the news isn’t equally affected.

      1. pancakes*

        In addition to all that, making an observation that someone is in a bad position isn’t the same thing as saying they’re in a worse position than anyone or everyone else. It’s not a treatise on the distribution of suffering among humanity!

      2. Chantel*

        You can’t really expect people who have likely figured out that they are on the cusp of losing their livelihoods and health insurance to behave calmly and rationally. (And sorry, but when you’re the manager, you sign up for the potential of making these announcements, regardless of how you’re affected). You can bet those employees are going to be ‘confrontational, awkward, and self-serving,’ and with good reason.

        Think of the parent whose kid is on chemo. The single mother of three. The mid-50-year-old with ten years left to retirement and facing ageism all day long. And so on.

        And all in a pandemic with astonomical unemployment numbers.

        But ‘set time and place’ and ‘protocol’ and not being rude. That’s what those employees should prioritize. Yeah, no. That isn’t how it goes in the real world.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          This is exactly it. I got laid off (with two other people) from a not-for-profit a few days before freaking CHRISTMAS. They thought it was being kind so I wouldn’t overspend. Yeah, like I hadn’t done my shopping already. Plus we were living in an apartment while we waited for our crappy old house to sell, so we had both rent and mortgage payments. It’s the only time I ever cried at work – I waited until I got in the restroom, but I was seriously freaking out.

  9. Harvey JobGetter*

    I know this wasn’t the question, but this is my advice here: even if your entire team is getting fired, it is totally inappropriate to tell them that as a group. Set up one-on-one meetings back-to-back. Nobody these people know will ever work for this company again.

    1. Roscoe*

      Agreed. Doing this as a group just is a bad idea. It always amazes me that management feels the need to control the narrative so much, that they would be much more rude instead of just telling people one by one

    2. Mentil Lentil*

      They are not being fired. Their contracts are ending. This is not the same thing.

      If you do this one-on-one then it seems like they are being fired and then there will likely be hard feelings.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean, it really is semantics. I’ve had my contract not picked up again, the difference between that, layoffs, and firings are pretty minor in terms of how you feel. Yes, how you can talk about the jobs going forward is different, but essentially it comes down to “you won’t have a job after X date”

        I can’t see having hard feelings for one and not the other.

        1. Mentil Lentil*

          It is not semantics.

          “You’re fired” means that you’re performance is seriously lacking. This is about you.

          “Your contract is ending” could mean:

          • We no longer have the budget for this project.
          • We lost this contract with our customer.
          • Our customer decided to go another direction.
          • We’re being bought out and our new parent company isn’t going to do this sort of thing any more.

          “Your contract is ending” is about the company, not you. You fire individuals for poor performance. If you have to fire an entire team for poor performance, then you’re not managing effectively.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I think Roscoe’s point is that either way, you’re out of a job..

              Agreed. When one of those excuses can make my next mortgage payment, then it won’t be semantics.

              1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                What about when you are asked why you stopped working at a place?

                “I was laid off when we lost a big contract. But if you do a reference check, they’ll probably say I was fired. Semantics. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “

                1. Roscoe*

                  Which is why, in my statement, I said that the way you can talk about it in the future is different, but how it effects you now is the same, and calling it something different is semantics.

                2. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  Calling things the same because they have the same short-term impact, but different causes and different long-term impact is wrong.

            2. SomebodyElse*

              It’s cold comfort, but there is a difference. I totally understand that it doesn’t feel like a big difference, but it’s still there.

              @Roscoe’s comment about it being rude to tell a group at once, I can see where it could feel that way, but it can also be kinder.
              -You’re not 5th on the list to be talked to and get the news from another employee vs. your leadership
              -Having to play what’s the real truth and trying to sift through rumors
              -Getting the same clear msg as everyone else at the same time vs. being ‘last to know’
              -If you are part of a group that is getting the news, it is generally understood that it’s not a self-caused problem it’s a company or organization driving decision
              -If it’s done correct as in “Schedule for end of the day… Announcement… Reassurance of good performance… announce plans for individual meetings… end meeting to give everyone time to process… set up individual meetings for next day to discuss details and let questions be asked” It can allow employees time and space to work through as a group and as individuals.

              I mean, hey as a manager it would be great for me if I only had to lay off the first person face to face and then they tell everyone else so I don’t have to do it. But that would be totally wrong and disrespectful to the employees.

            3. Mentil Lentil*

              Yes, but the big picture is one of those ways you will have a good reference and the other way you won’t. There is a difference here.

            4. Sweet Christmas*

              Yes, but the question is about how to deliver news to people, and the reason for the separation is really important in making that determination. If you have 50 people on your team and they’re all getting cut, it’s not necessarily practical to make 1:1 meetings with all 50 of them when it’s the same exact news – you may not even get through them all in one day, which is unfair to the people on days 2 and 3 and so on because they may get the news in the wrong way before they got a chance to talk to their manager.

          1. pancakes*

            “Your contract is ending,” particularly when applicable to a group of workers, can also mean something along the lines of, “the potential extension we were all aware might happen isn’t happening.” This has frequently been the case on freelance projects I’ve worked on. It’s not comparable to getting fired. In those situations, the end date is something that was agreed upon when accepting the work.

          2. Dan*

            Yeah, and in the US, most people on a contract are in some sort of temporary role. In some ways, it’s a bit backwards, because “permanent” employees are rarely on a contract.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I can see the group setting. The alternative easily looks like:

      12:05 – Fire Jeffery.
      12:10 – Fire Maude.
      12:15 – Fire Donny.
      12:20 – Fire Karl.
      12:25 – Fire Quintana.
      12:30 – Fire the Dude.
      12:35 – Realize it was a mistake to fire Walter last and give him an opportunity to catch onto the pattern and prepare for the meeting.

      1. Roscoe*

        Ok, so if Walter figures it out and “prepares”, so what. The end result is no different. IS it just that much of the bosses needing to have the upper hand down to the last minute?

        1. pancakes*

          My read of this comment is that the end result is very different in Walter’s case, as he’s caught on that everyone is being fired and that he’s in line to be fired too, and as a result is having some sort of outburst.

          1. KX*

            Possibly flashing his actual piece on the proverbial lanes, even. I get being wary of that. People are unpredictable now, seemingly more so than before.

            ( Movie reference; Walter pulled a gun on someone over a bowling score dispute.)

      2. BRR*

        When I was laid off in 2019, i was done as a group and I did express that I was not thrilled. I got a very reasonable response from the HR director that too many people were being laid off for management to do it in individual settings (worded professionally though). If they did it individually, it would have looked like the schedule you described and not only do people realize the pattern, people also start talking and I don’t think that’s great either.

        Also since it seems the team was all on the same contract terms, this is a scenario where it could make sense to do it as a group. I do agree with Harvey JobGetter that you shouldn’t do it as a group if you can avoid it, but I can see now how it might just sometimes might not be feasible.

        1. BRR*

          But I would recommend you don’t do it like that employer where they gathered the otherwise random group of people and had us sit in a conference room for 10-15 min because they could never start a meeting on time.

          1. AnonCanadian*

            I was part of a mass layoff once. None of us knew it was coming – but I KNEW I was getting laid off on Thursday (our company always seemed to do them on Thursdays). I had told people. Why did I know – because my project was on hold for months.

            On Wednesday two meeting invites go out. Company wide meetings in two different meeting spaces – everyone who knows I’m getting laid off on Thursday is checking what meeting is AnonCanadian in because they all know this means a layoff. I WASN’T LAID OFF. I should have been (they ended up doing it 3 weeks later…) my direct report who I had warned however, she was. It sucked.

            There was two group meetings followed by individual meetings with about 50-75 people losing their jobs. We all went to the bar – no work got done that day regardless of which side you were on. Big meetings are often a must.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      I see where you are going with this, but I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go. Chances are Employee #1 will walk out and say “Whelp… that’s us shit canned then” to employee’s #2,#3, #4, and so on. This is generally why there are group announcements to widespread layoffs and individual meetings later.

      In this case I agree with the OP and how they did it, but would also follow up with individuals after they’ve had time to process.

      1. Mentil Lentil*

        This is the best approach. And the follow-up is important so that they know it wasn’t about their performance, but about the direction the company is going.

      2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        I have been laid off where they told all the impacted people in a single meeting (and meanwhile they were disabling our logins) and then we all had to come back later that day to do the paperwork. I have survived a layoff where they pulled people one at a time (no meeting request to warn people) and the rest of us sat around all day trading rumors and waiting for our turn to have the executioner come “tap” one of us. Eventually they called a meeting with everyone left and gave us the rest of the day off.
        Frankly both suck, but the latter sucked much worse. It was so drawn out.

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          In the case where they ripped the bandaid off in a single group meeting, they didn’t give us hours of notice or send two invites, one to the laid off and one to the not. Less than 10 minutes before they meeting I got the invite, followed moments later by my boss showing up at my desk. I think I looked confused because he pulled me into his office (with a door) and just told me that the meeting was me and some other people being laid off.

    5. A penguin!*

      I don’t think managers can win on this one. Some people prefer the group layoff, some the individual one. I’ve been through both, and the group meeting is much more comfortable to me, compared to watching a pile of 1:1 layoff meetings happen and wondering if you’re next. Depending on company size, logistics alone could make individual layoff discussions impractical.

      Firings should absolutely be 1:1 or maybe small group (e.g. if you fire everyone involved for some egregious act, rather than poor performance); and they shouldn’t be happening en masse. But the letter doesn’t appear to be any sort of firing.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        It’s a no win situation. But if I were doing 1-1 layoffs I wouldn’t schedule them in advance. But then I generally have been in work environments where grabbing someone for an impromptu meeting wouldn’t be that unusual so unless the team were very large you could get it all done before people really started noticing — assuming you ask people not to discuss it right away and people are decent about it.

    6. hbc*

      I had the one-on-one meeting and was first to get called in, and it sucked. I thought I was the only person being let go, I was a freaking wreck when I came out of it, and my colleagues all told me to take off early and go home. I didn’t find out until the next day that my whole group was canned–this was before widespread cellphone use.

      The only truly bad way I’ve heard it done (by the same guy who gave me the axe, no less) was to gather the entire team together and then name the individuals who were going and staying.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        “The only truly bad way I’ve heard it done (by the same guy who gave me the axe, no less) was to gather the entire team together and then name the individuals who were going and staying.”

        And we have a winner for the absolute wrong way to do this! Holy shit… that’s terrible.

        1. BRR*

          Yeah there’s not an ideal way to do this, just ways that are better and worse and this is one of the worst.

          I’d also like to nominate my former employer as a bad one for doing it as a group and roughly 5-10 remote employees were being laid off and my company had historically bad tech issues during virtual meetings. So the remote employees in the meeting software chat were asking “wait what?” and “we’re out of a job?” because they couldn’t hear.

    7. Gumby*

      Once you tell the first person, likely everyone will know within 3 minutes of that meeting ending anyway. Unless you swear everyone to secrecy which would be completely unfair.

      The one layoff I have been through they told us the general outline as a group. (“We’re closing this division; it will be in 2 or 3 months; this is what we want you to do with the web site in broad strokes; you will get more details individually.”) Then later there were individual meetings. (“We’ll probably ask you to stay to the bitter end.” / “Your position will probably end a week or so after we make this official.”) Frankly, I was fine with that. I very much appreciated that it was not immediate. Plus there was little work for us to do while waiting for the official layoff which meant that we did a fair amount of job searching during work hours and no one had an extended period w/o a job.

    8. SnappinTerrapin*

      I had a situation a few years ago. I managed the operation for a contract, but was not involved in negotiations.

      I knew we were already past the expiration of the contract, but negotiations were continuing.

      My bosses told me to set up an all hands meeting. Several employees asked me what we would be told in the meeting.

      Well, I could guess, but that wouldn’t be helpful. We have to go to the meeting to find out.

      In the end, it was a bigger mess than it had to be. But that’s another story.

  10. David*

    This seems reminiscent of how my last company did their combination COVID layoff & “hey, we’re buying a company!” announcement: Two parallel Zoom meetings/Google Calendar invites. However, since you could see which meeting you were in & which meeting everyone else was in, it was pretty obvious which group was the ‘cull’ group.

    Ultimately if you want to keep this sort of thing secret, people are pattern-matching machines & can intuit bad news fairly readily.

  11. Shaniqua*

    You could do what my old workplace did – anytime someone got pulled for a meeting the manager would laugh and say you’re not in trouble.

    Then when they would try to surprise people for their birthday, they’d pretend you were definitely in trouble… But really we’re setting up a party for you! Surprise!

    This works best if you’re cultivating an environment of fear for your employees.

    1. Jellissimo*

      That’s exactly it! I once had to council a manager who routinely answered those questions when asked, and finally I had to put it to them as you need to be noncommittal no matter what the meeting is about! If you tell people “it’s good news, nothing to worry about ” when that is the truth, then when you don’t answer that way they will believe the meeting is bad. You need to remain neutral and advise people to wait for the meeting.

      Sometimes managers just want to do the fun parts of the job, like reassure people when the result is positive but they don’t think about the flip side of that equation. Neutral is the way to go – always.

      1. DKMA*

        I don’t think that’s true exactly. If you’re someone who doesn’t do neutral you just have to be honest about the direction of the meeting if not the specifics. In this scenario you could say something like “it’s not good news, but I’m not going to talk about it until we’ve got the whole group”. That wouldn’t work much more than an hour before the meeting, because the rumor mill will spin up, but it’s fine and doesn’t require you to alter your personality for the 99.9% of times when no one is being fired.

        In this case, the mistake was giving a few days notice for the meeting. Wait until everyone is in the office for the day and call an all hands meeting that supersedes other meetings on peoples calendars.

  12. Atlantic Beach Pie*

    I once managed an employee that was called into the CEO’s office with about an hour’s notice. We were both given exactly the same message: “The CEO wants to meet with X in their office at 4:30pm.” X spent the entire hour badgering me about what the meeting could possibly be about, was it bad, etc. When I told them to leave my desk (cubicles, no office) they texted, and then popped back up a few minutes later. Lather, rinse, repeat. They were texting me on the walk to the CEO’s office (different building on campus).

    Reader, it was bad. X had done something very naughty (that I had no idea about) and was caught. They very narrowly saved themselves from being fired by confessing everything pretty much as soon as they crossed the office threshold. So they definitely had an idea about what they were being called in about.

  13. Lurker*

    In previous job I was responsible for HR matters. My supervisor called me into his office on the fly at 5pm on a Friday asking if I had time “to discuss a personnel matter.” I thought for sure I was getting the axe even though there was no logical reason for me to be terminated. Turns out it was something completely innocuous like another employee asking for an exception to the PTO policy or something and he wanted to go over the options with me.

    1. Susie*

      That was the time at a past organization that they gave people the ax…so at my new org, I got a meeting invite in the morning for the last hour of the day with my boss, I low key hyperventilated all day.

  14. Murphy*

    One day my boss’s boss came into my office and said “I’d like to meet with you at4:30 today?” I completely joking said “Oooh, am I in trouble?” She said, “Well, we’ll talk about that later.” -_-

    Yes, I was fired. And I don’t know why they bothered waiting until the end of the day, honestly.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      And I don’t know why they bothered waiting until the end of the day, honestly.

      Probably because they’re paying you for the day and wanted that last iota of effort from you before discarding you.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        Which they completely ruined by pre-announcing it hours in advance.

      2. irene adler*

        I always figured it was an optics thing.
        If someone is present, then fired, say early- to mid-morning, folks will notice the subsequent absence.
        And they will wonder where that person is. And maybe even make inquiries. No one wants to field those questions.

        But, if someone is fired at the end of a day, (or even better, on a Friday), then there’s nothing amiss if that person does not show up on the next work day. Hey, they are simply out for the day. Sure there will be questions – at some point. But the initial event has passed so the emotions won’t be quite so raw.

        1. DKMA*

          I always thought it was a psychological kindness to the firee as well It lets them maintain the basic structure of their day in the face of hugely dislocating news. Just a bit easier to handle than arriving home alone at 11AM when your routine is to work all day.

          1. Lyudie*

            Everyone reacts differently though. When I was called at 6:30 pm Thursday and told the next day was my last day and when did I want to meet with my manager and hand over my laptop/keys/badge, I got the earliest slot still available because I knew there was no way I’d be able to concentrate at work for an entire day.

            1. Filosofickle*

              Yeah. The time I was laid off it was around 10am and that was the only good thing in that scenario! Don’t make me work the whole day then dump me. Especially since it was the last day of the month and we weren’t getting any severance and wouldn’t even have health insurance the very next day…it was literally the very least they could do.

          2. k*

            Reading this site it’s become increasingly clear that very few people seem to think employees deserve psychological kindness.

            1. pancakes*

              You’re not seeing a lot of variety in what people consider kindness? There are commenters who think it would be best to meet with everyone face-to-face individually, others who think email is preferable, etc. There are a lot of different views on this, and a lot of competing interests to think about.

            2. Philosophia*

              That is exactly right. If, as pancakes suggests below, the difficulty is that there’s a lot of variety in what people consider kindness, then in these circumstances there would be individual consideration of the people whom managers supposedly know, would there not. (I must add that my manager does know, and care to the extent her position allows, about the people below her. She has but a handful of people to manage, however, and is in addition inherently kind.) The fact is, though, that very few people in power think the employees below them deserve psychological kindness. After all, we’re not people like them.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That doesn’t match up with my experience at all. Yes, you run into the occasional sociopath, but most managers are normal humans who do indeed care about the people below them. It’s bizarre to state otherwise unless you’ve had really outlier experiences.

                1. Philosophia*

                  As I stated, my manager does indeed care about the people below her. The people above the people above her, however, do not. Some of them similarly care about the people below them. A level or two, down, however, and their recognition of the rest of us as human beings like them thins to nothingness, as shown by many of their corporate personnel practices, particularly during this pandemic. Judging by what I read here, that is no sort of outlier experience.

          3. wittyrepartee*

            My friend called me from the bus stop holding her desk effects on a freezing cold day once. “I guess… I’ll just go home?”

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          Our place (laughingly in the “humanities”) would do firings and n the late afternoon, long enough to get nearly a full day’s work out of the departing person, but early enough to have a security person escort them to their office to pick up their personal items and go. In all my time there, ONE person was fired for a security-worthy reason; the rest were things like work wasn’t up to snuff or the director disliked them or they were too old… they paid out so much in lawsuits that they finally just gave out really generous severance package to the firees. But the Walk of Humiliation With Security Escort continued.

    2. Your Local Password Resetter*

      I think there was a post about this some time ago, but there isn’t really a right time or day to lay people off.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. For every person who’s outraged because they were ‘made to work a full week and then fired on Friday afternoon’, there’s someone else complaining because they ‘got all the way to work on Monday morning and were fired straight away’. It’s the same with Christmas – for some people, a round of redundancies before Christmas is cruel and heartless, ruining people’s Christmases, but for others, a company that waits until the New Year is the worst because everyone’s been living it up over the holiday and then all of a sudden they don’t have a job. You really can’t win – there’s seriously never a time that will suit everyone, and people are always going to find something to complain about when something awful like redundancies are happening.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Management always wants the option of NOT firing you until the very last minute.

      I’ve seen people due to get whacked and management calls it off at the last minute (“wait a minute. WHAT are we doing here?”) or HR intervenes and stops it (“Freddie has a no-layoff contract”, or “Bettie is battling cancer”, or “If you lay off Tom, that puts (something regulatory) out of whack”).

      Most often, calling it off at the last minute happens. A manager might come to the realization that the guy or gal that’s being targeted is doing the work of a number of people, or is irreplaceable (yeah, yada yada yada no one is irreplaceable, but if Susie is let go, the s**t’s gonna hit the fan. Are you aware she’s doing, X, Y, Z and stands on her head? Who’s gonna do all that?)

      In my long career, I have seen, several times, managers agonize because they just fired someone and then realize — minutes later — that the department will become completely dysfunctional without that guy or gal. AND reversing the layoff/firing causes all sorts of problems – loss of face, the person might not come back, there might be a radical attitude switch, etc.

      So managers don’t want to pull the trigger on someone unless they’re SURE.

      1. StudentA*

        In some cases, when a company feels they can’t fire someone for some reason, they just go about making life at work as uncomfortable as possible so the employee can leave. The employee lives in constant fear of should I quit or should I stay until I get fired. Not everyone is lucky enough to find another job. The employee is aware the company is trying to sabotage them. It is hell, as some people don’t deserve this treatment at all. Their performance doesn’t warrant such hate campaigns.

  15. AnnieAlias*

    OP, I had to do a round of layoffs this past year. This was the 2nd or 3rd round that my company had done during the year, but the first round that affected my team. I have a ‘normal procedure’ if my team isn’t affected, in that I don’t answer any specific questions, good or bad about an employee’s standing when the rumors start or when a redundancy is announced. I wait until I get the all clear that my org unit is done with individual meetings then I’ll contact team members individually or clear their manager to reach out to let them know they aren’t affected.

    So when it affected my team, I had already set precedence of not answering questions* in this type of situation and just didn’t answer any individual requests for information or “Should I be worried” inquiries. At the end of the day as a manager you do the best you can in these situations.

    *I am very upfront with my team that I will always tell them the truth but I may not always answer their questions.

  16. Kevin Sours*

    One thing I would suggest is, where possible, work within the context of the team’s workflow. Is there a daily/weekly status meeting? Hijack that. Yeah it’s going to suck but you know that going in and there isn’t a way to prevent it. Or do in via one on ones if getting the team together at once can’t be done on the quiet.

    This is a moment where your convenience and schedule as a manager needs to be a secondary priority.

    1. Remotie*

      This happened to me. Had a standing remote team touch base on Mondays with my HR Manager & Co Recruiter. Got on the call and Co Recruiter had been replaced by our Director of HR. Was like, “oh hey Jill, great to see you!, where’s Jane?” Then they let me know that my position had been eliminated. It was a short and to the point conversation on a Monday. Was better compared to another job where they laid off staff while all of us were in the office watching. Sad day.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I’m sure that sucked. But would have rather gotten a vague meeting announcement from Jill Monday morning for a meeting that afternoon?

  17. AnonForThis*

    I saw an impressive one happen at my workplace a few years back. Almost everyone in my department gets a meeting invite in a conference room in a connecting building for 15 minutes from then, sent by the assistant to the big boss of our department (who is about 4 levels above my position in the reporting tree). This is definitely not normal. My colleagues and I file over, and see our own division head who was supposed to be working from home that day. She was called a couple hours prior and told to be there, but knows nothing else.

    We’re served a small lunch in the meantime (in-house catering) and the meeting is starting late, Big Boss is delayed, not totally surprising but still weird. And we start doing mental math to see who isn’t there, and eventually it’s noted that Big Boss’s immediate under-boss of the department, plus one of the executives under him, are not there. Are they with the Big Boss?

    Kind of. Those missing two were being let go (not stated but easily guessed as performance/mismanagement issues, due to the upper level team that came in to rework the department structure later), and it took longer than expected to find one of them and have the talk, then let them pack their stuff.

    Big Boss stopped in the conference room to state that Boss and Exec were no longer working with us, that no one else’s jobs were at risk (true), and that we should feel proud and secure in our work. We were told to keep eating and talking, and remain in the conference room until a particular time (about 20 minutes from then) to allow them to pack and leave.

    This was almost flawless except for about 20 minutes their email accounts were shut down early and an auto reply for both of them said they weren’t with the institution and to contact Big Boss with questions, and of course in that time, at least a few internal people tried to email them and started asking questions. But it was still pretty impressive. I guess the admin had to figure out a time when enough schedules overlapped appropriately so she could book meetings for those being fired plus block out enough managers’ times or otherwise work to get them together, and the regular workers just got “be there” invites 15 minutes ahead.

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I had a similar event at a previous workplace. I was actually traveling for work so I heard about it afterwards, but when one member of the team was let go they called a meeting with everyone else. So all my coworkers sat awkwardly outside with a member of leadership while my boss had the official meeting to let the fired colleague go. They were supposed to be out there for about 20 minutes while the news was delivered and the person gathered their things and left, but apparently she had a total meltdown, flew out of the office in a rage, and refused to pack her belongings before leaving the building. I came back to her office being locked (which NEVER happened) and my boss telling me that if I see her to call him immediately. It would have been a great plan under normal circumstances but it ended up being super, super strange.

      1. DKMA*

        Sounds like it was a good plan in this circumstance as well. How much worse would that situation have been if she had an audience / victims?

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          Very true! She sure loved to play to an audience. That coworker taught me to be very suspicious of anyone who cozies up to the newbies with all the dirt on other employees.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        This is the reason why so many companies fire/layoff people on a Friday at the end of the day. Wow

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          It’s been a few years but I recall it was the end of the day, possibly on a Friday (though I don’t recall). I happened to be headed back to the office right as it was happening so I got a phone call on the road from my boss telling me that she had been let go, then walked in to witness the aftermath.

          Now that I’m thinking about it, the purpose of the phone call to me was basically to head off her ability to manipulate me onto her side against my boss. So it all leads back to, it’s important for staff to hear about personnel changes straight from management!

    2. Nonprofiteer*

      At my last job, we had to start planning random catered lunch days after it got to the point where free lunch = some is getting fired right now. It was a dramatic place.

  18. Bernice Clifton*

    Ugh, even better is being the admin scheduling these meetings for leadership. Please don’t ask me what the meeting is about. Either I don’t know, either, or I can’t tell you.

  19. Dragon Kicwwar*

    Going to wade in here as someone who would ask this question! My reason for doing so are complex, but fundamentally I find it difficult to manage my emotions in such a setting. If I knew ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in advance (even without the context) it would give me opportunity to mentally prepare, consider questions (assuming that there is some inclination of what is coming) and breathe! In an ideal world one on one is much better to pass on news like this as I for one would find this incredibly challenging to deal with.

    1. DKMA*

      If you really can’t stop yourself from asking these questions I’d go with a “I know you probably don’t want to go into details ahead of the meeting, but can you just give me an indication of whether it’s good news or bad news? These things stress me out and having some sense helps me mentally prepare.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I really don’t recommend doing this! Most managers won’t answer that and if you’re going to keep working with them it’s going to make you seem high maintenance, especially if you do that more than once. I know it can suck but sometimes it’s just part of the job to find a way to roll with this stuff, even if only externally.

    2. hbc*

      Can you decide that it’s bad news and mentally prepare for that?

      I recognize why you want what you want, but unfortunately it’s pretty much directly at odds with what the manager needs to do. If they tell you that it’s bad news, can they be sure you won’t go spread the word to your colleagues? Are you really okay with hearing that it’s bad but not knowing that it’s “the whole team is gone” or “you and several others will be laid off” or “there will be 10% pay cuts” or “we just filed for bankruptcy but someone might buy us so we don’t really know what will happen now”?

    3. lunchtime caller*

      Just assume bad and text your friends to freak out until the meeting like the rest of us! It’s actually okay to just feel bad for a while when you know you’ll find out either way in an hour–definitely not pleasant by any means but not something that must be avoided at all costs.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s totally fair! I also freak out and assume vague meetings are bad news, but I am also an adult in the workplace, and it is reasonable for my manager to expect that I can manage my emotions.

  20. RJ*

    Very timely as my husband is having this type of meeting today at his employer of 25 years. My sympathies to OP and OP’s team. This is never easy no matter how you time the announcement.

  21. Tabihabibi*

    Conversely, my director called such a last-minute mandatory announcement meeting a few months ago and was…bizarrely surprised at the glum faces and lack of takers when she suggested someone start the meeting off with a joke before we started (!!!). It turned out she was announcing her own departure, and she could have saved us about 24 hours of anxiety if she had given a bit more of a clue that it wasn’t about layoffs or something terrible with COVID.

    I think it could be helpful to at least acknowledge that waiting for big news is distracting and anxiety inducing, so you’re confirming that you’re not just creating anxiety obliviously as in my example and flexing that empathy without being overly reassuring.

    1. Smithy*

      I think a director leaving or a re-org, or announcements of that variety are types that for some people counts as very bad news, good news for others, and then neutral with or without questions for others. And it’s in those moments, where it’s almost even more important to keep things neutral until it can be announced holistically.

      I’ve seen announcements of directors/senior leaders leaving that has resulted in people crying, holding back fist pumps of celebration, and everything in between. That kind of anxiety is inevitable, but I really don’t think there’s a way to preface it in advance without starting another kind of messaging mess.

      1. WellRed*

        I think it can be disconcerting but hearing a director is leaving is not nearly as upsetting as hearing your job is. There’s anxiety and then there’s anxiety coupled with fears about all that accompanies an actual job loss (homelessness for example)

  22. Lyra Silvertongue*

    I’m surprised that the LW wasn’t chided a bit more for the ‘semantic dodge’, because it was a bit more than that – it’s not cool to tell someone that nobody is getting fired that day when a meeting is, really, about firing them all, even if they’re not leaving on that day.

    1. Saberise*

      Yeah I kind of thought was a terrible way to put it. And yeah I would have been pissed if someone did that to me too. She basically lied to get out of an uncomfortable position.

    2. RitaRelates*

      My thoughts exactly. I feel like almost any other response or no response at all would have been better than that.

    3. Reluctant Manager*

      But what difference does it make? Not answering would have been better, but this is like complaining that the icing on the crap cake is vanilla and they wanted chocolate. It’s an hour; unless one of them financed an expensive car in that hour, the net results are the same.

      1. pancakes*

        I’d rather have an email ignored or answered vaguely than feel I was lied to. It’s not unreasonable or unusual to care about how bad news is conveyed.

      2. Delphine*

        Of course it makes a difference. She could have chosen anything else to say. From the other end, it would feel like OP was just playing games at my expense by saying I wasn’t being fired when, in essence, I was still losing my job.

      3. k*

        It’s more like knowing you’re giving someone a crap cake and telling them “don’t worry, I’m not giving you a crap PIE.”

    4. Nikki*

      Yes, I agree! I understand that the LW felt cornered, but I think the employee has a reason to be upset. Saying that no one is getting fired is seriously misleading when, in reality, everyone is being laid off in a few months.

    5. Kelly L.*

      Yep. They weren’t getting “fired as of today,” but they were getting “fired today.”

  23. Anonymous Hippo*

    I’m not sure I’d call that a dodge, if I was that employee I’d read it as a lie, and it would compound what was already a hard piece of info. What’s wrong with “yes, it’s bad news, but I need to wait and go over the details with everyone at once, I’m sure you understand”

    I know I default to wanting communication in writing over in person, so personally, if I had my way, this news would be given in writing, but with a block of time set aside so they can come talk to you once they’ve had an opportunity to react and start to cope in private. I always feel more that bad news is presented that way in much the same way people in goofy sitcoms want to break up with people in public, in the hopes of mitigating bad responses. Just my take.

    1. allathian*

      Yup, I agree. But I seem to be in a minority.

      I hope that if I was given bad news face to face, I’d be able to manage my own feelings and stay professional about it. But I’d probably lose it if there was even a hint of me being asked to make the manager feel better. “You’re sorry you have to lay me off? Not half as sorry as I am and don’t ask me to feel sorry for you because you had to deliver the news.” Unless a manager is a complete sociopath, they aren’t going to actually enjoy laying people off. They might enjoy being able to finally fire someone who’s been a pain in the ass for too long, and that’s only human. But even then, a decent manager wouldn’t gloat in front of the employee who’s being fired.

    2. Nikki*

      I’m surprised by the responses too! *Technically* a contract ending is different from being fired, but if my boss told me I wasn’t getting fired and then I found out an hour later that I’d be losing my job, I’d be angry.

      I don’t want to be too harsh on the LW, but I am surprised that so many people are excusing what is a really bad response and arguably a lie.

  24. Charlotte*

    When I was 22, I remember getting called into a short-notice, no-agenda, all-staff meeting one day. Everyone was sitting around making sort of nervous comments and jokes like “oh haha what’s this?”

    The meeting was to tell us that a colleague had died suddenly.

    Because I was the admin, I’d been the one who had taken the phone call with the news, and so I had to sit there listening to everyone speculate, while knowing the entire time what it was going to be. I remember a coworker nudging me like “what do you think it is?” and just sort of shaking my head because I didn’t know what to say.

    It’s been 5 years, and that’s still where my mind goes every time there’s a sudden meeting, even though I’ve been to a dozen less dramatic ones since. I don’t ever ask what it’s about. I know how miserable it can be to know.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I was present at a meeting like – it was actually a stand-up in a small organization. The CEO or COO called us all over, and about 10 of us were standing in a circle. He shared the news that a colleague had died, and the next thing I knew my legs were collapsing, though I didn’t lose consciousness.

      “I don’t ever ask what it’s about.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, we had this happen, too. My office very, very, rarely calls mandatory all-staff meetings so we knew it was big, but it’s not always bad. So far we’ve had: Nobody is getting laid off in 2008; we’re firing our executive director (unrelated to 2008); and longtime employee died suddenly. We’re not a very big organization and he’d worked there for decades so of course everyone knew him; it was pretty upsetting. They’re always professionally tight-lipped beforehand, though, and have everyone who really needs to be in attendance already there before they start so we’re not waiting around getting increasingly anxious, at least.

    3. KayEss*

      Yeah, we knew something bad had happened when one of the managers took a call and burst into uncontrollable public sobbing… the director informed us shortly after that our young colleague who was on vacation had a diving accident and was in the hospital, likely paralyzed for life.

      On the other hand, you could tell when firings/layoffs were happening because security would show up and awkwardly hang around until the individual meetings were over.

  25. Skippy*

    I’m to the point where I just assume meetings like that are going to be bad news — and if it’s not, I can be pleasantly surprised. But I’ve been laid off twice in my career, so I tend to expect the worst.

  26. Moniker*

    AAM: In general, managers should try to let people know what a meeting will be about (so that people can prepare and also because some people get anxious otherwise),

    I am so glad you said this. Managers where I work routinely put meetings on calendars with no information on what the meeting is about. So inefficient. Nothing gets done because people are unprepared. But most managers here think they have done their job if they held a meeting.

  27. Nicole*

    I definitely understand the anxiety. Early in my career, I worked at a company that did layoffs in the middle of the day in an open office setting with only one conference room. Instead of sending any emails, people were just brought in one at a time. We knew something was up the moment a colleague came back to their desk to get their stuff while crying. Everyone started freaking out and messaging others to find out if they were next. An awful experience all around…

  28. The Other Nigel*

    There are better ways of handling it than others…
    Many many years ago now, I worked as a software engineer for a large company that was downsizing.
    Our division occupied a couple of connected buildings. There were two large conference rooms, one in each building.

    Management sent out two group invites, both with the SAME subject line and time. One was in the Llama conference room, and one in the Alpaca conference room. Turns out one meeting was for those who were being laid off, and the other was for those who were staying.

    Guess what? Engineers talk to each other.
    “Oh, we’re going to the same meeting?”
    “Seems so. Where’s the Alpaca room?”
    “No, it’s in Llama according to my invite.”
    “Hmm… they must have moved the meeting. OK I’ll come with you”

    Worse, they didn’t check names at the door. So a random mix of laid-off and not-laid-off people were in each room… one meeting was told “You are laid off as of now” and the other meeting was told “You are safe but the other team is laid off”… Took a couple of days to soft out THAT goat rodeo…

    1. Mentil Lentil*

      Well, that was an intergalactic clusterfiick.

      I mean, part of it is on the engineers for not going to their designated conference room, but the vast majority of this is on management for not making it clear that you MUST go to your designated area. Good grief!

    2. BadWolf*

      Oh no! I could totally see this happening at my job. It’s quite common that when we have a larger meeting, many of us are just following others to the meeting room (when it’s a bigger crowd, we rotate through 3 places, depending on what’s available).

  29. Junior Dev*

    I do think managers should inform people of good or neutral meetings with a message like “it’s nothing to be worried about” but unfortunately there’s not really an appropriate equivalent when the meeting involves bad news.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Saying that means that when you forget to say it or don’t say it people will assume it’s bad news.

  30. k*

    I don’t understand why you can’t just tell the truth in cases like this. (A meeting where someone’s contract is ending unexpectedly = getting fired, making “you’re not getting fired” a lie. And I’m pretty sure that deep down the OP knows that.) It’s not like telling the truth will affect the outcome, and basically there are two scenarios;

    Tell the truth: The employee will feel awful about losing their job, but they won’t have the additional feeling awful that comes with uncertainty, and they will have time to collect themselves/update their resume/pack their desk/do whatever else they need to do.
    Lie: The employee will feel awful about losing their job, and feel even worse about being lied to. If this happened to me I would no longer feel that I could trust my manager for things like references, and at future jobs I would be less inclined to trust anything said to me about meetings.

    1. Smithy*

      I think the problem is that it creates risk for news to be shared in less controlled ways and risk becoming gossip.

      When the news is being shared to a group, it’s so that a consistent message is shared across individuals and there time/space to answer questions that may pertain to the larger group and can clarify the messaging. If any detail had been shared with the individual, the manager has to rely on the employee to keep it to themselves – which is just not likely. Then messaging devolves into gossip.

      And even if the meeting is 1 on 1, the reason the time was chosen is likely to afford the chance to explain the news and answer questions. If you ask your boss if its good or bad news over IM/in the hallway – then that leaves a condition where they can’t really respond or provide context.

      As a result, the better way is not to try and contextualize whether its good or bad news – and that it’s better to wait for the meeting. It’s not fun, it leads to anxiety, but the other options are rarely any better.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They’re not lying to them. They’ve called a meeting where they will share the news in an hour. Declining to announce it in what is essentially the meeting invite is not lying.

      There are lots of reasons to want to share important news live, like the ability to answer questions on the spot.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Didn’t OP essentially lie though, when they said the person asking wouldn’t be fired when the result (contract ending early) is functionally the same? I’ve never been in this situation, but I would imagine it would actually be harder to come up with questions if I’m blindsided by something than if I have had time to prepare. Like, I might just be too stunned to ask anything in the moment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, I thought the lying accusation was about my advice on what to say.

          Yeah, I don’t think the OP’s wording was great — technically true but misleading. Employers need to do a better job of telling managers how to handle this stuff because it *will* come up and they shouldn’t be left to wing it.

        2. allathian*

          I’d like Alison’s take on the too stunned to react comment. I vastly prefer getting news, good or bad but especially bad, in writing, with a chance to discuss things in person later when I’ve had the chance to react to it in private.

          The ability to answer questions on the spot in a live announcement is irrelevant if the people who receive the news are too shocked to ask any questions. Most people need some time to process bad news, and ideally there should be an option to ask questions later when the worst of the shock’s worn off.

          This is also similar to when someone you expect to be hired isn’t. I recently learned that my absolutely fabulous manager, the best manager I’ve ever had, who’s an interim first-time manager, wasn’t hired on permanently when her predecessor retired (they wanted out of management before retiring, that’s why the interim position was open, but my org didn’t want to hire anyone full-time for as long as they were still there). Management positions are always open to external hires, but our manager had been doing such a great job that everyone thought she was basically a shoo-in. We were all stunned to learn that the interim manager wasn’t hired, almost as stunned as if someone’d been fired, but at least it went to show that they’ll pick who they feel is the best candidate for the job and aren’t interviewing external candidates just because it’s a requirement. We got the news by email and during our ordinary team meeting we got the chance to process our feelings out loud and react to it, with both our interim manager and grandboss present. Our interim manager got to hear how much we all valued her and how sorry we were that she didn’t get the job. I actually think that the opportunity we got to talk about it will make it easier to adjust to the new hire in a professional way and without resentment, and I must admit that my respect for our grandboss went up a notch, because this can’t have been easy for her, either. Our interim manager wasn’t fired or laid off, and she said in the meeting that she’s not going to make any irreversible career decisions until the shock’s worn off, but I would be surprised if she didn’t start looking elsewhere once the new hire’s been onboarded.

  31. PT*

    This is an inverse of a bad layoff story. I worked at a place where we had our building, and leased a second site during busy season. The main site was set up with lots of glass offices, so that all meetings were visible to everyone passing by in the hallway.

    Well, we had a boss who was absolutely drowning in his job and also a gigantic jerk, who had been pulled into a meeting with his boss and his boss’s boss. Someone happened to walk past in the hallway during this meeting and of course, runs into the main department workspace and then texts it to the second site, that “boss is in a meeting with grandboss and great grandboss I bet he’s getting fired.”

    Well that got the rumor mill going and everyone was flat out giddy until Grandboss goes into the main department office and announces the news, which immediately gets texted to the second site. Second site has no senior management present so there is a spontaneous party. Yelling, fist pumping, running in circles, dancing, jumping up and down, singing, the works. Grandboss shoots over an email that he’s coming to have the same meeting with the second site, so everyone keeps an eye on the door so they know when to stop the victory celebration.

    1. NYWeasel*

      I had only been working at this one job for a couple of months, when one night there was a hullabaloo in the hallway. The much despised senior boss had gotten the axe just after the day shift had left for embezzlement. There was probably a week or two of celebrating overall, but the first night with just the second shift was the most boisterous.

  32. TootsNYC*

    I still remember a time when the division I worked in was being sold to another company. It had of course been rumored, and we were all called to a HUGE meeting offsite at an auditorium nearby, so that we would all fit.

    This one guy got up and YELLED at the president of the division, saying, “I asked you weeks ago, and you told me that the division was not up for sale!”

    The reply was, “We had a fiduciary responsibility to the company we were in contract with to preserve the financial value of the company itself. If we had told you that it was indeed going to be sold, all sorts of contracts would have gone south, and employees might have left, and the value of the company would have dropped before the sale went through.”

    What he didn’t say, and I genuinely thought he should have said, was, “You should not have asked that. You should be smart enough to realize that we couldn’t tell you the truth, either way.”

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      I disagree with your last sentence just because I think it would create more drama. I think the only thing the president could have done here is, weeks ago, answer, “if it were, it wouldn’t be something you’d hear discussed outside of the A-Suite” and keep it moving. Homie can conclude for himself if he is smart enough to push further or read into that more.

      1. pancakes*

        Depends on the audience! If their work has anything to do with securities trading or if they’re lawyers they should be able to spot the issues there. It is the essence of material non-public information.

      2. TootsNYC*

        you’re probably right.
        and in a way, his answer sort of pointed out what a problem is was to ask that.

    2. Nia*

      The company has a greater responsibility to its employees(you know the people responsible for making the company valuable in the first place) and they had a moral responsibility to give employees all the information they needed to make the right decision for themselves.

      1. pancakes*

        If it’s a publicly traded company, the Securities and Exchange Commission is not in agreement with you, and not following their rules is very risky. Look up “8-K filing” and “material non-public information,” for starters, if you want details.

        1. Nia*

          I’m perfectly well aware that business leaders lobby to have their morally repugnant practices protected by the law thank you. That doesn’t relieve them of moral culpability only legal culpability.

          1. pancakes*

            This isn’t just a lobbying issue — you’re advocating telling the employees at once, which 1) encourages insider trading and 2) is at odds with the company’s fiduciary obligations to its new partner. Fiduciary obligations like these, legally, are a framework to hold people responsible for looking out for other’s interests beyond than just their own. I couldn’t agree more that legal obligations and ethics are different things and aren’t always aligned, but there’s more to this issue than you make out to be, and there are better ways for an individual employer who wants to challenge these structures to do that than getting fined into oblivion.

            1. Truth*

              > Fiduciary obligations like these, legally, are a framework to hold people responsible for looking out for other’s interests beyond than just their own

              But in this case this move also maximized the compensation the director received. Funny that huh?

              1. pancakes*

                I don’t think there’s a lot of information in the original comment about the company’s pay structures but I would assume he made out well, sure. There are more targeted ways to reduce income inequality and bring down exorbitant c-suite pay than trying to reduce the whole company’s value, though, and reducing the overall value wouldn’t necessarily compel a more equitable distribution of it.

              2. TootsNYC*

                I don’t know that he did profit off this. He may have been phased out, and so would have gotten a compensation for being laid off, as any employees that were laid off would have (and of course he’d have gotten a higher number).

                He may have been absorbed into the new company–the way nearly all the other employees were.

                Keeping it quiet actually meant that the company’s value was retained, which means the EMPLOYEES were retained.

      2. TootsNYC*

        if they had confirmed the rumors, it’s possible the company would have gone under.

        As it was, people’s jobs simply shifted over to the new company. In terms of continued employment, keeping the negotiations quiet until the decision was final actually preserved people’s employment.

        Also: the gossip was out. Employees weren’t without information, even if it was unofficial; if they were afraid they’d get laid off, they could look for new work.

      3. TootsNYC*

        any drop in value of the company during negotiations would probably have led to layoffs. Keeping it quiet until the decisions were final meant that the valuable employees simply transferred with the company to a new overall employer

  33. EvilQueenRegina*

    Funnily enough we had something similar last week (in fact I nearly brought it up in the open thread) when we all got summoned to an urgent Teams meeting and told to prioritise it, we were given no explanation at the time beyond being expected to show up. Since there was no explanation it allowed time for the rumour mill to start spreading, including a suggestion that someone had died and a jokey remark about mass layoffs.

    Eventually, one director did reply all to the invite with the context that it related to a court judgement involving one social care team in the department (I can’t be any more specific than that so as not to identify anyone) and giving the whole department a briefing before it hit the public domain, which was due to happen that day. However, this announcement was about 45 minutes after the initial invite went out, so that had allowed more than enough time for rumours to start (while the team specifically involved had some idea that the judgement was coming that day, a lot of people had no context at all to the meeting and it caused panic.)

  34. Sparkles McFadden*

    There is no way good way to respond to the “Should I be worried?” query. The best you can say is “Let’s wait for the meeting so no one is excluded.”

    Once, when the company announced there would be layoffs, I had a direct report come and explain that he was closing on a house and he really needed to know his status beforehand. I had to explain that nothing is final until the actual announcement and, though I might have some information before that, I could not be sure it wouldn’t change. I said “I know this is difficult, but inaccurate information is worse than no information.” Direct report yelled and cursed at me and stated that, because he was closing on a house, he should be able to keep his job. I replied that every employee had obligations and that is just not how global decisions could be made. He would just have to wait for the meeting. It went downhill from there.

    He was so publicly vocal about his displeasure, I cannot help but think he pretty much sealed his own fate.

    The flip side of this was that I was in a division that was being closed down. We would all get six months notice and have time to apply for new jobs in the organization. Management called a meeting to explain the process and provide us with severance figures. We knew exactly what was coming…and it was still a gut punch. Knowing in advance didn’t help at all. You’re always thinking there will be a reprieve.

  35. Anonomatopoeia*

    I do get why a manager might need to be cagey, but I am also a person who is not okay with high-emotion (in any direction) meetings without time to gird my loins and, frankly, maybe take some ativan, which to be clear is not a thing I require in general day to day activity. Retirement parties, adopted-a-new-kid celebrations, meetings about grim financial news that will affect jobs, meetings about an amazing new donor that will allow the organization to purchase unicorns, meetings in which we make high-stakes decisions about stuff that’s divisive and that people care a lot about on both sides, the announcement that a colleague who has been out of the office for several weeks is terminally ill… all of these are high-emotion, and I am past middle age and depending on duration/number of people/what else is happening in my day, I likely cannot be in that room unwarned for very long despite plenty of work on this part of my self in my life. I actually think it’s a well-hidden/poorly-described neurological-ish learning disability kind of thing for me, probably with some relationship to ADHD or similar.

    All that to say: a meeting invite that indicates it’s about everyone’s contracts, but no additional context? is awful. In contexts where that kind of announcement comes out, I have previously told supervisors look, I get you’re constrained here, but here is my scenario, and so I’m going to need enough heads up for this that I know whether I need to for example plan an alternate way home so that I don’t have to sit at my desk waiting for ativan to wear off, or whether I need to place myself so that if I start moving toward a panic attack I can leave without making a scene (which is worse for everyone), etc. For me, I see this as an accommodation, and I will and do keep my mouth shut if it’s something other people are not supposed to know until it’s time.

  36. DiplomaJill*

    My company reduced salaries 20% at the beginning of the pandemic in an all staff, all videos required, zoom call. It was horrible to have to control your face during it. And the way they haroed on attendence and cameras-on, I just _knew_ it was going to be bad.

  37. Beatrice*

    I would not have shared the detail that it was about their contracts in advance. I would just have made it a mandatory meeting and told everyone that they were required to attend and that they needed to reschedule other meetings around it as necessary.

    For the question, I’d just have said, “I have some information to share, and it’s important to me that everyone hear exactly the same message at the same time, so I can’t share anything with you in advance. Please plan to attend the meeting.” I treat all Big News that way (in the last 18 months – 1 restructuring, 1 layoff, a temp pay reduction and the rollback of the pay reduction, three major updates to pandemic response). My team knows by now that if I schedule a mandatory all-hands meeting, they shouldn’t ask in advance.

  38. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Do people really expect the boss to announce the bad news in advance of a bad-news meeting? (“Yes, there WILL be Doom, Gloom, Misery, and Pain. Lots of Pain.”)

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      No, they are hoping they get told it is good news and they can stop worrying sooner.

  39. pagooey*

    This takes me back. When I was a tiny baby manager (and terrible at it, more than 20 years ago), I worked for a company that decided to call a meeting at 10:00 AM with all of Team X, to lay them all off…and then at 10:30 AM bring in everybody else, Team Y, to explain. So, the Team X meeting adjourns, and 30 people go sobbing back to their cubicles to start packing. One of my reports came up to me and loudly asked, “WHY IS EVERYONE CRYING?”

    Long story short, 90% of us got out before that company folded entirely within 2 years. Memories! :-\

  40. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    All my sympathy is for the workers being let go. Yeah, it’s awkward for the LW, but that’s part of the job for them. I don’t think the workers should have to worry about LW’s feelings or have a guilt trip handed to them as a departing gift.

  41. Elbe*

    One way to handle this would be to schedule a long departmental meeting about a general topic, discuss that briefly, and then use the rest of the time to deliver the bad news. This way you can book the meeting in advance without worrying people unnecessarily.

    1. k*

      This has happened to me before, and it’s not great. Because in my experience the way it works is that the “general topic” lasts for most of the meeting time, and then the bad news is delivered in the past few minutes to prevent anyone from asking questions.

  42. Nerfmobile*

    Ah, my layoff nightmare story! Which illustrates ok corporate planning screwed up by a bad manager. I was working for a large multinational company with many sites, and reporting to managers in other locations was common. My manager was at another site, and there were two others at my site who reported to her. Anyway, they had announced that there would be a layoff like 6 months in advance, and there was a whole communications plan. Each site had a different “layoff day”, and each person had a meeting with their manager scheduled on that day – so nobody could guess in advance. Managers would fly into each site where they had people to do the meetings in person.

    So, on my site’s designated day – my manager was unexpectedly sick and couldn’t travel. Our meetings were all set for the afternoon, but in the morning she sent IMs to the other two, moving their meetings earlier – and didn’t reach out to me. They each went off to the phone for a call, and came bouncing back in short order, happy with their outcomes. People started asking me what I had heard, and I got increasingly pitying looks as the morning went on and other people also had their conversations. At one point I messaged my manager (who’d been online all morning) and helpfully pointed out that I was available if she was free. It was like hearing a fake cough from across the country as she replied that she had to go lie down, we’d keep our scheduled time, and then she immediately went offline.

    So, my local colleagues took me to lunch (unusual for all of us to go) and made kind and awkward conversation. I escaped by going to “take a walk” and moped around the parking lot for a bit. At my scheduled time, I walked into the phone booth and was met by my great-grand boss, who barely knew my name but was the only other manager in my hierarchy on-site that day and thus had to handle the in-person paperwork and pretend to care about me. Oh yes, my manager was on a call with us but barely said anything. It went about as I expected it would. Fortunately it was a decent severance package, but just extremely bad handling of the circumstances by my manager. If she’d left all the meetings til afternoon it would have much kinder all around.

  43. Rain queen*

    Why tell them they aren’t being fired today to then point out they are being fired – just not today at the meeting?

    I’d be pissed if my boss did that to me. Sure, a bit of notice before I’m unemployed is always going to be better than none. And I get those decisions aren’t easy. But I’d be furious if you played word games over me losing my job.

    Sometimes people ask so they can be prepared. If you’re expecting layoffs you can think through before the meeting what questions you need to ask. Or you can prepare yourself to block an emotional response.

    If you don’t want people to know, then you need it to be unremarkable for your team to meet.

    1. Doing my best and hoping it's enough*

      Agree! It seems like OP got flustered and did unintentional damage.

  44. Birch*

    IMO this is a great argument for always giving people a reason you’re asking to meet–unless it’s bad news. People naturally assume the worst of uncertain situations, so it then becomes a code. No reason given? Assume it’s bad, and don’t put the meeting inviter in a difficult place by demanding more info before they’re ready to give it.

    That being said, people are still going to ask, so it would be good to practice a script like many people have suggested, along the lines of “I’m sorry but I need to give everyone the same information at the same time. Please wait till the meeting and I’ll answer all your questions then.”

    1. In my shell*

      Ohhhh @Birch, that’s OUTSTANDING! “I need to give everyone the same information at the same time. Please wait till the meeting and I’ll answer all your questions then.”

  45. Doing my best and hoping it's enough*

    Employee anxiety about meetings in general can be just so much. I developed a habit of saying “everything is fine” when inviting people to stop by or to meet and it’s become a running joke, but has legitimately decreased the perception of “being hauled in the office” and / or “I’m in trouble” (based on prior experiences elsewhere and dealing with the authority/boss complex). It works really well, but as manager you have to be perfectly consistent about saying it when things are fine otherwise they worry even more. Managing people is so complicated.

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