1700 Holiday Layoffs, via Conference Call

The Story

Companies make many difficult decisions, but they don't always communicate them well.  To share the "news quickly and consistently," Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceutical company announced 1700 employee layoffs via two conference calls: one for those staying and one for those leaving.  The company's holiday season timing didn't win them any new friends.

Sanofi Aventis 

Discussion Starters

  • Conference calls may not have been the best choice, but was the company's unethical?  Where do you see the lines in this situation between unprofessional, insensitive, and unethical?
  • Jack Cox, senior director of media relations, explained the decision to The Huffington Post: " 'Rather than cascade these announcements and stretch the notifications over the course of days, we decided to address these colleagues at one time, to explain the rationale for the reductions and express appreciation for the contributions they've made to the organization,' he said. 'We acknowledged in the call that delivering this news on a teleconference wasn't ideal, but given the scope and scale of the reductions, there was no other way to share this news quickly and consistently.' "  

Although the medium caused Sanofi-Aventis bad publicity, can you see Cox's point?  What might be a good compromise solution?  You might want to revisit Communication Media Choices from Chapter 1.

Assignment Ideas

  • If an employee who reports to you complained about the conference call, what would you say?  How would you balance explaining the decision and empathizing with the employee about the bad news?  Role play with a partner in class.
  • Write an apology email to employees.  Be honest and empathetic, and be careful about getting yourself in legal trouble.