The he-said-she-said-I-heard-don’t-tell-anybody rumor mill thrives in any workplace. You can be a registered nurse, an attorney, a foreman or a teacher, and you come across information that no one else knows. Is it news? Is it gossip?
The textbook correct way to handle this information is to keep it to yourself. If what you found out about is that a partner at the firm is pregnant or that Greg has a crush on Janine, then, yes. You’d be hard pressed to categorize spreading that information around as anything other than gossiping.
However, what happens if you come across information that involves the company or your colleagues? An impending merger? Restructuring? These are major events that affect how your workplace functions. As juicy as this news is, the company will address it sooner or later, and you probably don’t have all the behind-the-scenes details that went on.
However, what do you do if you find out that a colleague is going to be laid off or fired? You might not have all the details in this situation, but you know that someone is about to lose his or her job. Would you ever take it upon yourself to break the news to the affected party? Before you decide what to do, let’s look at both sides of the situation.
Why you might want to say something
- The personal connection
Being laid off or fired is a devastating moment for most workers. The ability to pay the bills and survive comes from getting a paycheck. You can view telling the person, especially if he or she is a close friend, your way of making the news less cold and sterile. For a boss, the decision to downsize might be purely business; for a co-worker, it’s personal.
- The shock value
If you’ve ever been fired or seen someone shortly after receiving the news, the shock is visible. A stunned expression tells you the person is still trying to process it. Tipping him or her off gives time to get used to the idea before the boss breaks the news. That way, the fired party is in a state of mind to ask the right questions and understand what is going on.
- Planning time
Taking the previous two points into account, you can understand why adequate planning time is good before having to leave a job. Getting personal issues in order (belongings, incomplete projects, benefits, insurance) takes some preparation. If the soon-to-be-fired employee is about to buy a car or book a vacation, finding out could save them some much-needed cash.
Why you might want to keep your mouth closed
- Your information could be wrong
Let’s face it: Until the boss actually says, “We have to let you go,” nothing is official. Between the time you hear the news and the time you tell the person, the situation could have changed. Now you’re left looking like a liar and the person goes to work each day wondering if that will be the last day in the office.
- You don’t know how the person will react
Companies usually have a set of guidelines in place for terminating an employee. They might have HR deliver the news. They might have HR or security present in case the person reacts negatively. You don’t know how a person will take the news and you’re not equipped to handle the situation. The person could even overreact and storm into the boss’ office, quitting before she can be fired. That outcome could mean the company isn’t required to pay a severance package or honor any of the other perks that would be necessary with a layoff.
- You don’t know the whole story
Although you want to believe the best about your co-workers, maybe he or she is getting let go because of poor performance, bad reviews or other behind-the-scenes matters that you’re not privy to. Or maybe they’re being let go for financial reasons, and it’s either you or him. If word gets out that you gossiped, then the boss might want to let you go instead of (or in addition to) the other person .
- You’re not the boss
Ultimately, you’re not the person tasked with breaking the news. Maybe your colleague won’t find it easier to hear the news from your mouth. Perhaps it will be humiliating that a co-worker is the first to know about this bad news. You could be seen by your colleague as overstepping your boundaries and not as someone doing a favor.
- You could be putting yourself at risk
The case against telling is longer than the case for letting your colleague in on the secret. The repercussions for your career are certainly greater if you do tell. However, we are talking about people you work with every day. You might consider them friends. You know what a layoff does to a person’s life. It affects more than just the 40 hours they’re on the clock each week.
So, tell us if you would ever consider telling someone that you knew a layoff or firing was coming. Do you think it’s ever justified or should you always mind your own business? Would you want a co-worker to tell you if you were on the receiving end of the pink slip?