The bank's communications department wants to announce another round of layoffs. This would be uncontroversial except that they want to do it in advance. The draft press release says it plans to lay off a further 5 per cent of staff in Asia in the next three months. My objections to this strategy have fallen on deaf ears. The point I have tried to make is that it's not particularly helpful to let staff know this is coming. It just gives people one more thing to worry about. I'm pretty sure I'm right, but I am having a terrible time trying to convince anyone. And it's not because I don't have any good arguments. For example, during a recent discussion on the topic, I said: 'I don't think it does any good to have the whole firm worrying about whether they will lose their jobs.' To which Christopher Simons, the head of communications, replied: 'But Alan, we believe that it is in the interests of our employees to give them fair advance warning. We have a commitment to open communication.' 'Sure,' I replied, 'that would make sense if you were warning the specific people who were going to lose their jobs. But you're not. You want to warn the entire firm, 95 per cent of whom are not going to lose their jobs. But thanks to your announcement, everyone will have cause for concern.' 'In the long run though, Alan, the staff will respect that we are open in our communications, and when the layoffs do take place, employees will be comforted to know that we honour our promises,' he said. 'No one will be comforted to see that we honour our promise to lay more people off. Particularly not the people who are most affected by the decision. That's the kind of promise that I'm sure people would prefer to see us break,' I replied. And this is somewhat the problem. I can't help but point out reality, and so inadvertently end up losing arguments like this by giving the other guy an easy put-away: 'Well, I'm sure everyone would agree that we need to honour our promises,' Christopher said, and, of course, everyone around the room looked at me and nodded in agreement. This is an important lesson. Being truthful is not always helpful. Once a message like this comes out, it ceases to be the problem of the communications people and becomes everyone else's problem. Once staff read that there will be more job cuts they obviously want to know what that means for them personally. Communications conveniently sidesteps the issue by responding to all inquiries with the line that people need to talk to their department heads. 'Which jobs will be cut?' my secretary, Minnie, asked. 'I'm afraid I don't know,' is all I could say, which is also the truth. Unfortunately this led her to ask the inevitable: 'Will I be affected?' Now this is one of those no-win questions, like when your wife asks you if you think she is putting on weight. I could not tell Minnie that it wouldn't affect her, because it might, and I would not want her to rent a new flat or buy a new television or something on the basis of a reassurance from me that turns out to be wrong. The best I can come up with is: 'I don't know.' Although this is the truth, it is hardly a helpful response and serves no other purpose than to make her feel worse. The tricky thing about redundancies is that you often don't find out which of your staff are going to be made redundant until it is too late. Luckily I was able to persuade a friendly HR person to tell me who was on the list. And to my dismay, Minnie was among them. The only way to change this is to talk to the CEO. I raised the issue with him casually after briefing him on what a great job I am doing. 'The list hasn't been finalised yet,' he said, aiming to sidestep the issue, but I was ready for this. 'Yes, but Minnie is on the draft list,' I said, 'and that's despite the fact that she is one of the most hard-working and dedicated secretaries we have.' This was also true. 'Well Alan, everyone says that about their secretaries, and we've got to cut somewhere.' 'Right, sure, but Minnie's husband has also lost his job, and this will have a much more profound impact on her than I think you realise.' Again, also true. The chief executive responded with one of his favourite inane phrases: 'Well sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.' I was left speechless for a moment. The truth, once again, was failing to be of any use to me. I decided to take another tack. 'Well that's a shame. Particularly as I think she might be pregnant.' This is sort of true. She might be pregnant. I don't know that she is, or really have anything to go on other than the fact that she is a married woman. But one thing I do know is we're definitely going to want to avoid the adverse publicity that comes with firing a pregnant woman. 'Oh, really. Well that perhaps changes things,' he said. I'm sure the truth is useful now and again, but not for winning arguments.