Green = You Have a Job; Red = You're Fired?

The Story

The Daily Telegraph reported
that employees at Everything Everywhere, a UK telecommunications company, communicated layoffs to employees publicly -- at a team meeting -- using a system of color coding.  The article describes the communication process: "Up to 1,200 middle managers and back office staff who could lose their jobs by the end of the Christmas holidays were shown a red light and told they were 'at risk.' Other staff saw the light go yellow, which meant they must re-apply for their existing job. Some 30 [percent] of these roles face the axe under current proposals. A blue light indicated their job had been 'mapped' into the new business plan and were being kept on. A green light showed the creation of a limited number of new roles."

An Everything Everywhere company representative called the report "sensationalist and insensitive" and describes a much more humane process.  According to the company, one color-coded slide was used as part of "a range of tools to ensure that our people know exactly what is proposed for their teams and others across the business."  The company also claims that affected employees "should have been seen on a one-on-one basis." 

Everything Everywhere

Discussion Starters

  • How could two versions of this story differ so much?  What do you believe is the truth?
  • How does the process as reported by the Daily Telegraph match the principles for communicating bad news discussed in Chapter 8?  How does Everything Everywhere's version of the process match up?

Assignment Ideas

  • Imagine that you're a consultant working with Everything Everywhere.  Write a report to the senior management team to explain an ideal process for communicating layoffs.  Draw on principles and examples discussed in Chapter 8 to identify steps a company should take to communicate this bad news.
  • Write an email to employees about the Daily Telegraph article.  This is challenging!  You'll need to present the facts of the article and, of course, dispute them, while being sensitive to employees  who may believe the article was justified.  (Hint: You will probably want to provide an internal avenue for employees to provide feedback.  This is much better than finding comments on the Internet.)