Communicating Difficult Decisions to Candidates and Employees During COVID-19 (with Examples)

April 24, 2020
 

With the outbreak of COVID-19 causing financial hardship for many, you might be forced to downsize or cut costs to stay in business — whether it’s through pausing upcoming interviews with candidates, reducing your employees’ hours or laying off and/or furloughing part of your staff.
 

Delivering unwelcome news is challenging, but it’s critical to get your written communications right. In today’s uncertain climate, candidates and employees will likely be more understanding of the decisions you’re making — and bad news might not even be much of a surprise — but that doesn’t mean it won’t stir up feelings of stress and disappointment for both the receiver and you.
 

Instead of sending out a generic email to communicate negative news in bulk, personalize your communications to each individual. Employees will notice and it’s well worth the extra time it may take.
 

The following examples and tips can help you with the difficult task of delivering messages that candidates and employees would rather not read. Customize them to fit your business’s needs, voice and brand strategy.
 

In this guide, you’ll find messaging tips and templates for:

What to consider before putting your decision in writing

When you have to be the bearer of bad news, there are a few things you should keep in mind to help the receiver understand, process and accept your decision.
 

1. Break the news face to face

If you have to share the news with an employee, have the initial conversation face to face through video chat — ideally in private — before sending any formal written messages.
 

Canceling or postponing an upcoming interview with a job candidate? It’s typically okay to send an email to notify them, but consider delivering the news via phone or video chat first, especially if the candidate was in the final stages of the interview process.
 

2. Use the BEBE method

It might be helpful to organize your message using the BEBE formula (Buffer, Explanation, Bad news and Exit).
 

Buffer: Open with a short statement that softens the blow of the bad news you’re about to give — without misleading the reader into believing the message contains positive news. This could be thanking a candidate for their interest in your company or complimenting an employee on their recent accomplishments.
 

Example: <"I really appreciate your efforts to increase sales by 10% — even in the face of a global pandemic.”
 

Explanation: Set up the news by explaining the why behind your decision — studies show that people are more likely to accept an unfavorable outcome if they believe the decision is fair and reasonable. Candidates and employers will likely assume it’s due to the coronavirus crisis, but be sure to say so.
 

Example: “Unfortunately, because of the financial challenges our business is facing due to COVID-19, we’ve had to make the difficult decision to implement furloughs of nonessential positions.”
 

Bad news: Break the bad news clearly and concisely to avoid any chance of confusion. Keep your message more positive by reassuring the reader that your decision is not a reflection of their job or interview performance.
 

Example: “This letter confirms our previous discussion that [Company name] is placing you on a temporary, unpaid leave of absence, effective as of [date]. Please know that this decision is not based on your job performance.”
 

Exit: Close on a positive and/or helpful note — such as with a gesture of goodwill, next steps or potential solutions — while being careful not to over promise anything.
 

Example: “We appreciate all of your contributions over this past year, and are looking forward to your return as soon as conditions improve. In the meantime, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.”
 

3. Be as transparent as possible

Let them know what other cost-cutting strategies you’ve already considered. How long is the company’s furlough expected to last?
 

The more open and upfront you are, the more likely it is that an employee will understand and respect your decision.
 

4. Get a legal review

As with any HR correspondence, consult with your legal team to make sure the information you’re communicating to candidates and employees is clear, accurate and helpful.
 

Pausing or canceling interviews

If you’re implementing a hiring pause, make an effort to reach out to candidates who have upcoming interviews.
 

Remember: candidates share how they’re treated in the hiring process, especially during difficult times. Even if you have to put hiring on “pause” for now, things will change — and you want to make sure you maintain a good reputation so you can resume your hiring efforts as soon as your company is ready.
 


Pausing interviews messaging template

Dear [Candidate name],
 

Thank you for your interest in the [Role title] position at [Company name].
 

Unfortunately, due to the economic impact of COVID-19, we’re implementing a hiring freeze companywide and will be moving to [postpone or cancel] your upcoming interview. Please know that this decision is not a reflection of your qualifications, skills or interview performance.
 

We understand that this is disappointing news, but we’d love to [consider you in the future, reconnect with you at a later time, keep in touch to resume the hiring process when the time is right].
 

Best regards,
[Your name]
 


Reducing hours

While reduced hours might have the least impact on your employees overall, a loss of income is still unwelcome news that should be communicated with empathy, compassion and reassurance.
 

Provide clarity around benefits, including whether or not cutting back hours will trigger a loss of eligibility for health insurance or retirement benefits.
 


Reducing hours messaging template

Dear [Employee name],
 

Thank you for the excellent work you’ve done on [specific project, task, responsibility] over the past few months — even in the face of a global pandemic.
 

Unfortunately, due to [the lack of work in our industry, revenue loss, etc.] caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, [Company name] has made the difficult decision to reduce hours across certain roles to avoid more drastic measures such as layoffs.
 

This letter confirms our discussion that we’re reducing your work hours from [number of hours] to [number of hours] per week, effective [date]. This reduced schedule is expected to last until [date], but is subject to change. Please know that this decision is not a reflection of your job performance.
 

You will continue to receive [list of benefits] during this time.
 

We appreciate all of your hard work during these uncertain times, and look forward to better days ahead. If you have any questions, please reach out to [point of contact].
 

Best regards,
[Your name]
 


Notifying of furlough/layoff

While furloughs and layoffs might be unavoidable, it’s important to communicate your decisions with sensitivity — and offer support if you have the means to do so (e.g., severance packages, assistance in finding another job).
 

In times like these, everyone’s watching how companies are responding. Consumers are even monitoring how employers treat their workers during COVID-19 to inform future purchasing decisions. When drafting your notice of furlough or layoff messages, keep in mind that internal comms often reach the outside world quickly.
 


Notice of furlough messaging template

Dear [Employee name],
 

Thank you for the excellent work you’ve done on [specific project, task, responsibility] over the past few months — even in the face of a global pandemic.
 

Unfortunately, due to the financial challenges our business is facing due to COVID-19, [Company name] has had to make the difficult decision to implement furloughs of nonessential positions.
 

This letter confirms our previous discussion that [Company name] is placing you on a temporary, unpaid leave of absence, effective as of [date]. Please know that this decision is not a reflection on your job performance.
 

You will continue to receive [list of benefits] during this time.
 

We appreciate all of your contributions over the past [few months, year, several years] and are looking forward to your return as soon as conditions improve. In the meantime, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Contact your local unemployment office to find out if you’re eligible, and to learn how to apply.
 

We will continue to provide regular updates on [Company name]’s evolving situation during this period. If you have any questions, please reach out to [point of contact].
 

Sincerely,
[Your name]
 


Notice of layoff messaging template

Dear [Employee name],
 

Thank you for the excellent work you’ve done on [specific project, task, responsibility] over the past few months — even in the face of a global pandemic.
 

Unfortunately, due to the economic impact of COVID-19, [Company name] has made the difficult decision to eliminate certain [positions, teams, departments] to ensure the financial stability of the company.
 

This letter confirms our previous discussion that we’re implementing a layoff of certain positions, including your role, effective as of [date]. Please know that this decision is not related to your job performance.
&nbps;

We explored several other alternatives, including [reducing hours, implementing a hiring pause, budget freezes, furloughs]. Unfortunately, these efforts have been unsuccessful, and we must eliminate approximately [number] positions to avoid permanent closure.
 

[Optional paragraph on severance] You will receive [X week’s] of severance pay for each year of employment. In your case, with [X years] of employment at [Company name], you will receive [X weeks] of severance pay at your normal salary. During this period, we will also continue to provide you with health insurance coverage.
 

This was an incredibly difficult decision, and we thank you for your understanding. As for next steps, we will be offering support in the form of [outplacement services for assistance in finding a new position, counseling, etc.]. You may also be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Contact your local unemployment office to find out if you’re eligible and to learn how to apply.
 

We truly appreciate all of your contributions over the past [few months, year, several years] with [Company name] and wish you all the best in the future. Please reach out to [point of contact] with any questions or concerns.
 

Sincerely,
[Your name]
 


If you’re struggling to communicate COVID-19-related decisions to your candidates and employees, these tips and templates can help you manage challenging conversations more effectively. By being sincere, transparent and empathetic, you can effectively share disappointing news and better position your business for the future.
 

*Indeed provides this information as a courtesy to users of this site. Please note that we are not your career or legal advisor, and none of the information provided herein guarantees a job offer.