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How to respond when you don’t have the answers

Arielle Gordis 9 min read
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Workplace trends

Will 2024 be the year of office returns?

A staggering 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, according to a recent report by ResumeBuilder, and nearly 30% say their company will threaten to fire employees who don’t comply with attendance requirements. Notably, only 2% of business leaders said their company doesn’t have plans to require employees to come to the office and collaborate in person. This renewed push to end remote work comes as more employers openly express their disdain for the model, arguing that productivity, teamwork, and employee engagement all suffer when not engaging together in person. That said, given that 68% of full-time workers prefer a hybrid work schedule, per a recent Bankrate survey, most experts agree that the majority of companies won’t go back to requiring attendance five times a week, and instead, will stick with the post-pandemic norm of just spending two to three days per week in the office.

Laid off employees are sticking around

These days, many workers facing termination are experiencing a new kind of corporate cutting – drawn out layoffs that can take weeks or months to finally come into effect as opposed to the more traditional, abrupt ones, in which laid-off workers learn they are cut and are expected to leave on the same day. While the previous approach protected companies from security problems or lost clients, it also often leaves workers with a bad taste in their mouths, which can spark social media backlash and trigger concerns among the employees that remain. That’s why a number of employers, including Wells Fargo and Disney, are choosing the long goodbye route in an effort to appear more compassionate when cutting staff – giving them the ability to ease out of the role and start the job hunt while still employed. There may still be associated risks to this practice, but experts explain that the advance notice shows remaining and prospective workers that the company treats its people well, which could aid in recruitment and retention.

The AI corner

ChatGPT is getting access to media content

OpenAI and global news publisher Axel Springer have struck a deal that will allow ChatGPT to summarize news stories from its media outlets, marking a significant milestone as media companies continue to push for compensation for the use of their content in generative AI tools. Under this new agreement, OpenAI will pay Axel Springer to use content from its publications, including Politico and Business Insider in the U.S. and European properties Bild and Welt, to populate answers in ChatGPT and train its AI tools – making sure to include links to the original sources of the information. The bots will also have access to pieces that are currently only available to subscribers of those outlets. OpenAI Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap explains that this partnership with Axel Springer will help provide people with new ways to access quality, real-time news content through powerful AI tools.

Microsoft is partnering with the AFL-CIO

According to a recent survey, 70% of people are concerned about AI displacing workers, with women especially worried about it exacerbating job inequity. That’s why Microsoft and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the US representing 12.5 million workers, launched a partnership to train workers and leaders on how AI is used in the workplace. In the first-of-its-kind collaboration between a labor organization and a technology company, workers will also be able to give feedback on their experience working with AI and voice their concerns about the technology directly to Microsoft’s AI researchers and developers. While Microsoft President Brad Smith admitted that he can’t promise that AI won’t displace certain jobs, he did emphasize that he hopes this partnership will help enable workers to use AI to their advantage.

How to respond when you don’t have the answers


Many companies like Cruise, Etsy, Hasbro, and Spotify have announced significant job cuts in the final days of 2023, and others could still be on the horizon. Experts explain that December layoffs are unfortunately common, as they’re often the surest way for companies to adjust reports and projections for the following year before presenting to shareholders.

However, experts warn that post job cuts, companies are often left with employees who are less trusting, less committed, and less satisfied – which risks defeating the purpose of the layoffs altogether. In a BizReport study, around 70% of “layoff survivors” said their motivation at work had declined since the layoff, 66% reported feeling overworked, and many were left feeling insecure and more stressed in their jobs, making them more likely to quit out of frustration and dissatisfaction.

All this said, when you lead a team, especially in times like these, your employees often come to you for guidance, context, and clarity. And while sometimes you’ll have the right information and assuring updates to share, there will undoubtedly be cases when you simply don’t have the answers.

Whether you’re unsure about the future or timelines, restructuring or layoffs, or a whole host of other things, the way you address it with your employees can completely determine their morale, motivation, and trust in you as a leader.

So, how should you respond when you just don’t know?

Be transparent

Being a great leader doesn’t mean you always have all the answers – it means you’re capable of giving useful guidance and support, regardless of whether you have the exact information your team member is seeking at a given moment. Honesty is essential to building trust with your team, so while you may navigate the conversations differently according to each employees’ needs, – more blunt vs. more cushioning – it’s important to be open when you aren’t sure about something. Even when many things are still up in the air, be transparent that it will take time before things become clear, and assure them that they can count on you to do what you can to ensure the best outcomes for the team.

Convey confidence

As a manager, your behavior and attitude can seriously affect employee sentiment, so projecting confidence in the company’s leadership and optimism about what’s coming in the future can make a real difference for your team members. While things are uncertain and you might not have all of the answers, it’s important to emphasize your trust in the company’s senior executives and that the decisions being made are not just reactive – they’re meant to effectively ensure the business is best positioned going forward. Try to lead with a positive attitude and use collaborative language that promotes a sense that, “we’re in this together.”

Emphasize what you do know

A key way to instill confidence in your team members even in the face of uncertainty is by focusing on what you do know. For example, if a team member wants to know if their role is going to change after organizational restructuring, but decisions haven’t been finalized yet, share the information that you are already sure about in an optimistic way. You can respond with something like, “I know these changes are cross-departmental, so there is a chance your role will be impacted, but I know that all of the adjustments taking place are very well-thought-out, so if it does affect you, I’m confident it will present really great opportunities for you to grow and develop.”

Be proactive

As often as possible, don’t end a conversation involving uncertainty without action items that you plan to take to get more information. Try to outline steps you’re taking to get more answers, including speaking with key decision-makers, preparing relevant materials, and circling back with the right people. Even something as simple as, “I’m going to follow up with the department head and get back to you,” can bring a sense of ease and some needed assurance among your team members. Just be sure to make it clear that you recognize how challenging it can be to not have answers, and that you will do everything on your end to keep them in the loop on any updates that may provide greater clarity.

Address underlying concerns

During the conversation, try to understand the underlying needs of your team members so that even if you don’t have answers to their questions, you can still respond in a way that addresses their deeper concerns. For example, if an employee wants to know how recent layoffs are going to affect their workload and you don’t have a finite answer yet, try to identify why they want to know this – are they worried about feeling overloaded? Are they interested in taking on a certain project?

Once you understand the why behind the specific question, you can adjust your response accordingly. If the fear is about being overloaded, you can emphasize that regardless of how the work gets divided, you’ll be available to help them prioritize and reallocate tasks if it feels too much, and if they’re actually really interested in taking on the project of someone who’s left, you can thank them for sharing and assure them that you’ll take their interest into account as you figure out how to divvy up the work. This way, regardless of what happens, they can leave the conversation feeling sure that you, as their manager, have their best interests in mind.

Water cooler chatter

China officially has more branded coffee shops than any country in the world, knocking the US down to second place for the first time since the World Coffee Portal started tracking. The number of chain coffee shops in China grew by 58% in the past year to surpass US outlets by more than 9,000 storefronts, according to the industry platform.

“More than 90% of 4,000 Chinese coffee shop consumers surveyed drink hot coffee weekly, while 64% consume iced coffee at least once a week.”
World Coffee Portal

More than a thousand tons of fish washed ashore in Japan, and officials have no idea why. After sardines and mackerel formed a silver blanket stretched for more than a kilometer on the surface of the sea off the fishing port of Hakodate in Hokkaido, local fishers scrambled to collect the fish, fearing the potential impact on the oxygen content of the water as the fish decompose and damage the marine environment.

“The cause is unknown at the moment. We plan to sample the seawater at the site and examine it to uncover the cause.”
Mikine Fujiwara, Local Fisheries Official

Question of the week

Last week’s answer: 152

This week’s question: What were the original Fortune 500 companies?

Just for laughs

How to respond when you dont have the answers
Arielle is a writer and storyteller currently serving as a content marketing manager at When she’s not busy writing, you can find her walking outside for hours on end or planning her next travel adventure.

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