Bedside Manner

Bedside manner matters.  Good bedside manner is often linked to lower medical malpractice claims against physicians.  In the context of employee terminations, good bedside manner can reduce claims as well.   The cost of a poorly-implemented RIF in terms of morale, public relations and liability can end up outweighing the economic benefits.

Justifiable business concerns regarding security of company premises, interactive systems and customer relations can result in abrupt terminations with little or no notice.  Fear of saying the wrong thing sometimes means employers provide no explanation at all.  And in light of economic conditions, severance, if any, can be well below employee expectations.  

So how to soften the blow?  National Public Radio recently profiled a reduction in force at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute ("BGI") in Bainbridge Island, WA.  Two values BGI emphasized in its lay-off process were "transparency" and "participation" - characteristics often lacking in reductions in force.  First, BGI turned to each department to trim its budget, involving employees directly in the decision-making.  Then BGI communicated the needed reductions privately and with compassion.    (Go to for the full story)

How can an employer show good bedside manner in the context of a RIF?

-  Notice, where possible, may give employees time to regroup and an opportunity to find other employment in a difficult market.  However, employers should monitor the activity of departing employees, including use of interactive systems and interactions with customers. 

-  Honesty is important.  Employers should communicate the real reason for the termination and why that employee was chosen.  In the context of employment claims, employees often challenge adverse actions by establishing that the reason they were given wasn't the "real" reason.  Even if the real reason is the employee's performance, it's better than sugar-coating.  The reason for the termination should be objectively supported and preferably documented (for example, performance appraisals, decline in sales).

-  To the extent possible, permit employees, at least at the management level, to participate in the process.  Employees will appreciate the opportunity to have some control over their fate.

-  Consider alternatives where possible. Will employees take reductions in pay, hours or overtime to avoid a lay-off?  Are there other cuts that can be made? Having a company holiday party contemporaneously with an end of year RIF sends the wrong message.

-  Where offering severance, try to offer an amount that reflects an employee's service to the company, such as by offering weeks of severance based on years of service.

-  At the time the separation is communicated, have on-site EAP available so employees have someone they can go to immediately.

-  Offer employees outplacement services.

There is a future after a reduction in force.  How the message is delivered sends a message itself - that can affect public relations, business development, and future recruiting.