- Laid off tech workers feel like they were treated poorly by their ex-employers after years of loyalty.
- Ex-Googlers and Meta employees say they were laid off while on maternity leave or suddenly got locked out of systems.
- HR consultants told Insider that many companies are ill-prepared for the logistics of mass layoffs.
Why do the recent round of layoffs in tech seem especially brutal?
In March, a group of over 1,400 Googlers petitioned CEO Sundar Pichai to show workers respect and to not “Be Evil” as the company cuts its workforce by 12,000. The outcry came after a number of former employees publicly shared how they felt the company handled their dismissals in a distinctly un-Google-y way.
Some discovered they were laid off while on parental leave. Current employees said they learned colleagues were let go when emails to them bounced back.
Then there’s the matter of severance packages: some ex-employees begged the company to honor their approved parental leave or paid-time off, while others lamented the miscalculations of their stock options.
These unfortunate situations are part of a growing chorus of laid-off tech workers across the industry who feel they’re being given the cold-shoulder by their once-beloved employer. When Meta started its first round of mass layoffs in November, some employees realized their fate when they couldn’t log back into their laptops while working from home. One laid-off Meta employee described the experience as “cold” and “impersonal.”
After years of pampering — some would say spoiling — their employees, why is it that the layoffs have been handled in such an impersonal way that leaves workers feeling alienated?
Insider spoke with three human resources consultants about the way companies perform layoffs. Consultants said some of what we saw in the layoffs is part of a well-planned strategy, while the rest is likely an oversight. And in the case of Google and Meta, who have never done mass layoffs before, some of it can be chalked up to inexperience.
“There are a volume of people that need to be communicated with about the company’s decision. And most companies are ill-prepared to deal with the logistics around that,” said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human-resources consulting company.
No plan is flawless
Companies usually plan weeks or months in advance of any layoff announcements.
Once the finance department determines that steep cost cutting measures are in order, leadership meets with HR, legal, and consulting teams to devise a plan of action. They’ll try a hiring freeze and limit travel, among other relatively easy money-saving measures. But when that doesn’t work, they’ll try the quickest route: reduce the workforce, said Jaime Klein, CEO of Inspire Human Resources.
Companies then mull over who to let go. “Last one hired, first one fired” is a common phrase, but consultants told Insider that it’s never that simple. Many of the recent layoffs included people who had been with their companies for years. It could be that the employee had the highest salary in a role, making them more expensive than others. Or maybe the role was going to eventually be phased out and the company chose to start the process with the layoffs. Whatever the reason, only the people behind the layoffs know the full story.
Despite all the planning that goes into the big announcement, there’s still hiccups. Klein said sometimes the layoffs get rushed because of the urgency of needing to cut costs. According to Lewis, no matter the method tried, there’s going to be flaws – even when you call in the pros.
“You’ve seen companies gather groups together. That seems impersonal and cold and demeaning and undignified. You’ve seen companies do so through companies like me, total strangers in this equation. And that stands out like a sore thumb, as well,” he said.
Lewis also said that companies often forget about the people on vacation or those who called in sick and may not have a plan in place to get the message out to them. It may seem nefarious, but it’s usually a genuine oversight.
There’s no warm and caring way to protect company data
Nobody likes being escorted out of their workplace, told they can’t return to their workstation to collect their things, or suddenly locked out of their laptop. But experts say that the few incidents where things went horribly wrong during layoffs have ruined it for everyone.
“No one’s gonna take this news lightly. Some people react very impulsively and may start sending out emails that are inappropriate, might destroy certain pieces of work,” said Lauren Winan, CEO and principal HR consultant at Next Level Benefits.
Winan describes a client who waited 24 hours to shut off access so their employees could say their farewells and help with the transition of their work to another colleague or team. More than a few employees took advantage of the time to send emails with expletives, or destroy files out of spite.
Lewis recalled a client who told him it was rude to deny employees the right to go back to their desk to gather their own belongings. So, she allotted a few hours for workers to do just that. A few days later Lewis and his team learned from the IT records that an employee downloaded a full client list from the company and had started to reach out to the clientele.
But, along with protecting the company, there’s an interest in protecting the laid off employees, too.
“You don’t want them to end up in a situation where they do something they regret, because it might follow them around in their career for a while,” Winan said.
These possible explanations don’t speak to every layoff. There’s always exceptions. But for the majority of layoffs, companies try to choose the lesser of all possible evils, which have the least chance of creating liability for all parties involved, Lewis told Insider.
Yet, even in that, everyone must remember, as Klein pointed out, “we’re all gonna bump into each other again in life, in our careers. And people remember who treated them with respect or not.”