Delivering Bad News through Email

Here is how not to convey an email message containing bad news to a coworker:


Hey, Fred—just found out you’re going to get the sack today. Tough luck. But hey, that means more time for those Red Sox games. Go Sox! Ha ha. Later, Bob

Unless you really don’t like Fred, you should take a different approach. And yes, emails like this do actually get sent by people who (presumably) don’t know any better.

Here’s another way not to convey bad news through email:



Hey, did you see the game last night? What a blowout! Was that disappointing, or what?

Well, I didn’t write just to talk about sports. The fact is, I want to talk about what a great job you do here. I know you’ve been with this company a long time. Over the years, I’ve watched your work and learned from you. The projects we’ve collaborated on have really helped me learn the ropes.

That’s why it bothered me so much when I heard you’re getting canned today. Man, that’s really a bummer.

Well, call me later and we’ll hang out after I get off work.


Here, the problem is that the message is entirely misleading—even the subject line doesn’t really say anything. Then, instead of being upfront about the bad news, the issue at hand is clouded by the writer. Finally, with no warning at all, the bad news hits the reader like a ton of bricks. (Do you think Fred will want to hang out with the genius writer of that last email?)

But just how should one handle composing a bad news email? How about something like this:

SUBJECT: Bad news


I’m afraid I have bad news. Due to budget cuts, you’re one of the 40 workers whose position has been phased out. I’m very sorry.

Management assures us it has nothing to do with the quality of anyone’s work. Some of the people they let go have been here for over 10 years.

Fred, I know that with your qualifications and experience you’ll have no trouble getting on somewhere else. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.


What makes the third email preferable? It shows concern for the person who is about to lose his job. It does so by using a truthful—but not thoughtless—subject line. Then, it gets right to the point. The middle paragraph offers a little comfort and a more complete perspective. Finally, the closing provides sincere encouragement.

So, when it comes to delivering bad news through email, remember:

  • Use an honest subject line
  • Get to the point right away
  • Offer some perspective
  • Provide encouragement