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Layoffs are not "an opportunity"
It's one thing to make a leap. It's another to be pushed off a cliff.
Layoffs are not an “opportunity”
Layoffs in tech continue at a furious pace. The heartbreaking part is that many of them are due to wildly unsustainable growth throughout 2021.
I read about one company that went from 100 to 250, raised $52 million in venture capital, and then laid off 23% of its workforce last week. Same company had tweeted in April of 2021: “We laid off zero people during the pandemic… Don’t ever give up. Believe in yourself. And find others who believe in you. #Gratitude.”
Ouch. That didn’t age well.
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The impacted employees immediately took to LinkedIn and talked about how much they enjoyed their time at the company and that they looked forward to their next opportunity. There was a huge outpouring of support for these talented individuals.
But what about the people who are not grateful for the opportunity? The ones who are devastated by the loss of a job, worried about paying their bills, and unbelievably pissed by the management failures that led to the layoffs in the first place?
Why don’t we make room for the employees who want to tap their LinkedIn network for a new job while also saying, “This fucking sucks?”
Layoffs are emotionally devastating
Many companies emphasize that their layoffs have nothing to do with performance. Everyone on the team was talented and the decisions were difficult.
I have no doubt that’s true. And also no doubt that many impacted employees are flooded with feelings of self-doubt.
Why not my colleague?
What could I have done differently to keep my job?
These questions can be paralyzing. And also hinder that person’s ability to immediately start looking for work.
One minute you’re employed and the next minute you lose access to company accounts, internal communication tools, and your sense of who you are as a worker.
I have a friend who was recently laid off from her job at a tech company. She would only receive severance if she stuck around for a few more days to help transition her projects to another teammate. I was disgusted when I heard this: the company was, in essence, holding her hostage — delaying her ability to focus on finding a new job while still serving the company’s agenda. The work was agonizing for her, but she didn’t feel that she had a choice.
It’s a longstanding problem that our sense of worth is tied to the work we do. And it’s wrong: companies often fail spectacularly at supporting an employee’s needs and building a sustainable business. It’s an imbalance of power: employees can do everything right and still find themselves out of a job.
Yet it seems like these employees feel compelled to show up with a virtual smile on LinkedIn and be “grateful” for their previous employer. Maybe some of them are.
But those that aren’t? Do they lessen their chances of finding community support by expressing their shock, disappointment, or outrage?
Job hunting is exhausting
Experts debate about the “best day” to do layoffs. Layoff on Friday and employees have the weekend to process their feelings and can start fresh on Monday — but can also lead to people hitting the bar or stewing about the unfortunate situation. Layoff on Wednesday and the employee has a few days to work with HR and get questions answered, but may feel like two more days were “squeezed” out of them for the first part of the week.
I’d argue that how a former employee responds is unique to that person: there is no “best day.” A Friday might be better for some; a Wednesday better for others.
In an episode of Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us she talks about over-functioning and under-functioning as a response to anxiety.
Overfunctioners tend to move quickly to give advice, rescue, takeover, micromanage, get in other people’s business rather than looking inward.
Underfunctioners tend to get less competent under stress. They invite others to take over and often become the focus of family gossip, concern, worry. They can get labeled as irresponsible, or the fragile ones, the ones who can’t take the pressure.
The loss of one’s job is pretty high on the anxiety-inducing scale. Over-functioners will likely have their resume ready to go by the next day. It’s the thing they can control when the rest of the situation is out of their control. Under-functioners may withdraw, unsure of their next move.
Without data to back this up, I’m going to guess that people who show up on LinkedIn with a message about “Looking for the next opportunity!” are heavily in the over-functioning category. They’re trying to “rescue” themselves. Under-functioners are quietly in the background.
But both responses are exacerbated by a brutal job market. Even the most qualified applicants can be subjected to flaky recruiters, a terrible hiring process, being ghosted by managers, or lowball offers. It can push the over-functioning or under-functioning response even harder — with the added pressure of needing a job to secure one’s livelihood.
Over-functioners may burn out from their job hunts. Under-functioners may find it hard to send out resumes in the sheer volume often required to find a new role.
The best way that friends/colleagues can help is to ease that burden. Provide warm introductions to companies looking to hire. Post on LinkedIn, “Hey, I know someone who is looking for work with X experience in Y industry — can anyone help?” Both of these remove some of the chaos from the job hunt.
Pivoting quickly is hard
I’ve also seen a lot of posts along the lines of, “Getting laid off was the best thing for me because I launched my own business!” or “If you get laid off, you can pivot into freelancing!” or “I took some additional time off to go back to school or spend time with my family.”
All of these can be true. I know people who have done such pivots successfully (and hopefully, myself included). It might seem like the timing is right, but not everyone has the luxury to make such a switch — especially people in the United States, where health insurance is tied to employment.
Even for people who may embrace that opportunity to try something new, it doesn’t change the fact that the timing was not their choice. Someone with an entrepreneurial inkling would probably have preferred a more calculated leap into the unknown, rather than being forced to pivot quickly. Framing a layoff as an opportunity can further hurt people who are struggling.
A roundup of stuff from around The Interwebs. Some to make you smile, some to make you roll your eyes. And some stuff that I wrote on other platforms.