Transparency in Tough Times

Article by:
Marnie E. Green, EO Speaker
Marnie E. Green
EO Speaker

Many of the organizations I’ve been working with recently are facing tough times. If they aren’t laying people off, they’re cutting budgets big time. We all know the slumping economy translates into some difficult decisions for the workplace, and how these decisions are carried out impact how employees feel about the organization. While these tough times may force us to have some tough conversations, they don’t have to lead to decreased employee motivation or commitment.

Here are a few tips for maintaining morale when times get tough:

  • Tell them all you know. Hiding details or facts from employees rarely benefits anyone, and employees eventually find out the full truth. If you haven’t been 100 percent upfront with the details from the beginning, your lack of transparency will be held against you in the future.
  • Tell them when you will know more. Sometimes you don’t know all of the facts or possible outcomes. The best thing you can do is to admit what you don’t know and let them know when you expect to have more information. Of course, you’ll want to deliver on your promise to follow up.
  • Provide options. In uncertain times, people want to know that they have viable choices. In the case of layoffs or budget cuts, you may not have an option when it comes time for tough decisions to be made. However, you can offer options to employees about how the changes will affect them. For example, one organization I’m working with is offering employees an option to take a lower-paying job or a severance package. At least the choice left the employees in control of their destiny!
  • Show your pain. These are painful times, especially when people are losing the status quo. It’s completely appropriate and often times welcomed for the person delivering the message to show that it’s a tough and painful decision. I still remember a former boss who said, “This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.” I believed him.
  • Don’t sugarcoat or minimize the message. You may want to deliver the bad news in a way that makes it seem “not so bad.” You may even sprinkle in a few “look on the bright sides.” While a certain amount of optimism may seem appropriate, be careful not to overdo it. What may seem like “no big deal” to you may be a huge deal to the employee who is hearing about it for the first time.

    Not every organization can be transparent when it comes to making key decisions in tough times, but I encourage all of my clients to find ways to deliver the message in a way that keeps employees informed and provides them choices. When they do this, their employees feel respected, and when they feel respected, they are more likely to be committed and motivated.

    To learn more, contact Marnie at +1.480.705.9394 or online at

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