This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

Ending employment, through termination, dismissal, disengagement, firing, or quitting is a natural part of the organizational experience. Whether initiated by the employer “moving in a different direction” or employees “pursuing other opportunities,” ending employment creates the potential for uncertainty for remaining employees in the organization. The amount, quality, and timing of communication surrounding the dismissal of a coworker could have negative impacts and leave employees desiring additional information. In addition, remaining employees may also perceive potential barriers and social costs to seeking their own information surrounding a coworker’s dismissal. This study examined the communication surrounding coworker dismissal, including how remaining employees learn about the involuntary dismissal of a colleague with whom they worked closely and what predicts remaining employees’ information seeking behaviors (i.e., direct, and indirect questioning, observing), feelings of uncertainty (i.e., organizational uncertainty, related to the company’s structure and policies; work uncertainty, related to one’s job and job duties; and personal uncertainty, related to one’s performance and advancement), and perceptions of social costs (i.e., loss of interpersonal attraction and perceived expertise) related to information seeking.

To explore the relationships between dismissal messaging, and subsequent information seeking, uncertainty, and social costs among remaining employees, the author conducted an online survey of 220 individuals from a range of occupations and industries. All participants had experienced the dismissal (the involuntary termination of employment for reasons other than organization-level financial issues, e.g., layoffs, downsizing, restructuring, or bankruptcy) of a coworker with whom they interacted with at work at least once a month prior to the dismissal, regardless of differences in authority. Participants’ age ranged from 18 to 66 years, 152 were female, 67 were male, and one preferred not to identify.

Key Findings
·      After the dismissal of an employee, the grapevine is sometimes relied upon by managers to learn the informational needs of remaining employees
·      Information shared with remaining employees after a dismissal was varied and may be influenced by brevity of participant responses. Reason for dismissal was provided approximately 40% of the time. Information about moving forward was reported by about 15% of participants.
·      To supplement a lack of dismissal messaging, remaining employees utilize the locating information seeking strategy, which involves looking around for physical indications of a dismissed coworker’s absence or presence. Locating tactics may be evident when people seek information by looking for evidence of a change, like a layoff, sickness, or termination.
·      Older employees experience higher uncertainty and perceive higher social costs of information seeking following the dismissal of an employee.

Implications for practice
Organizations should 1) train managers to communicate coworker dismissals among remaining employees formally and in person as quickly as possible, to generate feelings of fairness toward the organization, and reduce uncertainty over potential job loss, 2) proactively share future- and task-oriented information with remaining employees, such as whether and when replacements will occur and how to proceed in the meantime, to reduce the spread of gossip, and foster a supportive and participative work environment, 3) create planned and appropriate responses, and be available to address remaining employees’ potential questions and concerns.

Benedict, B. C. (2020). Examining the Experiences of Remaining Employees after a Coworker Dismissal: Initial Message Characteristics, Information Seeking, Uncertainty, and Perceived Social Costs. Management Communication Quarterly, 34(4), 495-526.

Location of Article
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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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