Outdoor Voices' Store Closure Notification Over Slack Sparks Backlash

Outdoor Voices' Store Closure Notification Over Slack Sparks Backlash
Cover Image Source: Google Maps | Outdoor Voices

Amidst a growing trend of companies resorting to mass layoffs, Outdoor Voices, a prominent athletic apparel brand, has recently entered the fray. Unfortunately, their approach to job cuts has stirred controversy, with accusations of "mishandling" the process. According to The New York Times, Outdoor Voices blindsided its employees with an internal Slack message announcing the closure of all 16 brick-and-mortar stores. This abrupt shift to an exclusively online business model left many employees feeling shocked and undervalued.

Cover Image Source: Facebook | Messenger Aspen
Image Source: Facebook | Messenger Aspen

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Rohan Verma, an executive coach based in San Francisco, described the company's move as lacking empathy toward affected employees. "These approaches, especially laying off folks over Slack, lack basic empathy for the employees' contributions and may only exacerbate the anxiety and shock people are feeling," he said.

Furthermore, the prevalence of remote communication tools like Slack and email has facilitated a disconnect between employers and employees during sensitive transitions. Instances of Meta, Amazon, and Twitter laying off employees via impersonal digital notifications highlight a disturbing trend in workplace communication.

Image Source:Pexels|Photo by Yan Krukau
Image Source:Pexels | Photo by Yan Krukau

Outdoor Voices' decision to close physical stores aligns with an important strategy among retailers, including Dollar Tree, Bath and Body Works, and CVS, opting to reduce their brick-and-mortar presence. This shift reflects the evolving landscape of consumer behavior and the challenges faced by traditional retail models in the digital age.

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Amidst these developments, leadership experts emphasize the importance of handling layoffs with authenticity and sensitivity. "When possible, the message should be delivered by a real human, ideally the person’s manager or an HR representative," Verma suggests.

"Finding out about a layoff via an automated, impersonal, cryptic notification like an email or Slack message is not the most empathetic way to deliver bad news [though] it certainly can be most efficient."

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Los Angeles Times Guild members rally outside City Hall against ‘significant’ imminent layoffs at the Los Angeles Times newspaper | Getty Images | Photo by Mario Tama
Image Source: Los Angeles Times Guild members rally outside City Hall against imminent layoffs at the Los Angeles Times | Getty Images | Photo by Mario Tama

IBM's recent approach to announcing job cuts, wherein Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Adashek personally addressed employees during a brief meeting, serves as a positive example of authentic communication during challenging times.

Heidi K. Gardner, a distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School, emphasizes the ethical responsibility of leaders to communicate transparently and humanely with employees facing layoffs. "Every leader who calls himself a leader, who gets paid like a leader, who’s accepted that title of leader, has the responsibility to exhibit ethical leadership," she told CNBC Make It.

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Verma emphasized that while announcing layoffs doesn't necessitate a formal Q&A session, it's essential to adopt a more personal approach. This approach fosters a sense of humanity and allows for the effective relay of important details.

In the context of Outdoor Voices, he suggested that even a "genuine but firm" video message would have been preferable to the impersonal Slack notifications, particularly considering they contained vital information about the company's evolving business strategy. He noted that nuances are often lost in written communication, especially when delivering such sobering news.

Ultimately, mishandling layoffs doesn't just impact employee morale; it also chips away at trust in leadership and organizational integrity. As companies maneuver through periods of transition and restructuring, prioritizing empathy and transparency in communication becomes pivotal. This approach is important for safeguarding a positive workplace culture and nurturing employee well-being.


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