Monday, July 6, 2009

Insensitive-Inconsiderate-Down Right Thoughtless

Rarely does poor communication cause outrage. But last week I received the ANNOUNCEMENT below via email.




We are sorry to announce the death of Sam Jones, Age 22, son of Fred Jones, Vice President, Finance. He is survived by his parents, Fred and Sally, and three sisters, Mary, Jane and Cindy.

Visitation will be held on DATE from TIMES with a memorial service to follow at 7:00 p.m. at:


Interment will be private.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations be made to:


The Jones Family thanks everyone for their kind thoughts and prayers.


The names are changed to protect the innocent…and the guilty. If you ever needed an example of poor, no, worse than poor, offensive corporate communication, this is it. There are so many communication don’ts; it is difficult to know where to begin. Most of you are probably already aghast and I need write no more. However, for the few who are not seeing the obvious, I continue. Additionally, anyone who works for a company that would communicate such a sensitive matter in this manner should print this blog and tender it to your CEO.

Most importantly we do not ‘announce’ a person’s death. We inform or tell or let you know or notify or make you aware. Just a brief peek at your online Thesaurus will present a myriad of words to work with. This posting has no offer of condolences to the family, friends or coworkers except one ‘sorry’ which is used as an adjective to modify the verb ‘are’ which modifies the verb ‘announce’. So apparently what they are sorry about is the ‘announcement’? It is just plain cold. No personal thought or effort went into this ‘announcement’.

How did this happen? One, it is the way it has always been done. The corporate headquarters says cavalierly, it has been “company policy for 40 years!” which means that no one on the team is thinking about how to communicate a ‘death notice’? Two, no one is thinking about it because it does not affect the company EBITDA. Three, there will be little or no honest feedback from the several hundred employees who will view the death notice on their email or the break room bulletin board because in a day or two it won’t matter. Four, most people will view it as cold, or neutral at best. Because they are not trained in subtleties of communication, it won’t feel right, but they will not be able to explain why.

From the company’s perspective, this is a missed opportunity to show that it has a caring side to it. In this particular case, the tragic death of the 22-year-old son of a long-time executive employee, known personally to the CEO (signee of the ANNOUNCEMENT) leaves the communication rife with possibilities. But, let’s for learning sake, say it is a line worker who no one but a handful of coworkers knew personally. It is still bewildering that this would be how a company would want its character to show up. Let’s write a possible replacement for this less than gracious posting. And maybe before ‘Fred’ comes back to work next week someone will have the decency to re-post or at least tear down the one on the lunchroom wall.


This week, ZMF team member, Vice President of Finance, Fred Jones lost his 22-year-old son, Sam Jones, to a fatal accident. We at ZMF send our thoughts and/or prayers to Fred, his wife Sally and Sam’s sisters Mary, Jane and Cindy.

Fred will be out for the next few days tending to his family. Messages can be left for Fred on his email, or on his company voice mail, extension 123.

Visitation for Sam will be held…. Etc.

This took me about five minutes or less. It could be better and it could be tailored to the specific personality of the company. “Forty years” of refinement should turn out a perfect piece. In today’s economy and political climate where the average person is looking at corporate America with a jaundiced eye to begin with, one would believe that CEOs would care more about visible compassion. It may be a challenge to appear genuinely empathetic in communication surrounding a layoff or plant closing but this…come on suits!


Anonymous said...

What is wrong with people? Don't they get it -- is a little compassion too much to ask for? In such poor economic times, companies should be utilizing kindness to keep their employees happy, motivated and working hard for the benefit of the company. Clearly someone at this company missed the boat!

Kris said...

What is so hard about being genuine and considerate? If this is their example of communication, they should have not even bothered to post anything.