Layoffs are often the solution for companies that need to cut costs. Whether that’s due to macro factors like an economic downturn, internal mismanagement such as overstaffing, mergers, or simply not enough incoming funds, downsizing the workforce is a fast way to reduce overall spend.
However, no matter how much sense the numbers make, layoffs are often hugely disruptive for the departing employees — as well as those who will remain after positions are cut, given that they’re not typically representative of an employee's performance.
According to a 2019 survey of over 2,200 U.S. adults, nearly half of employed people have anxiety about getting laid off, and this was before we experienced the global pandemic and its subsequent implications on the economy and every company therein.
As an employee, losing a job for reasons unrelated to performance can be a huge shock to the system, and insult is added to injury when layoffs are handled inhumanely with little regard for the livelihood and wellbeing of those affected. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of this in the last months of 2022.
During the 2022 holiday season, we’ve seen Meta cut 11,000 jobs — nearly 13% percent of their workforce — in the first substantial downsizing of the team ever. Amazon is also expected to cut nearly 10,000 jobs between November 2022 and the top of 2023 in what will also be their largest staff cut.
Other tech companies like Lyft, DoorDash and Snap, Inc. have also announced layoffs throughout Q4 — while Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk hastily chopped teams in half, only to immediately ask back some of the employees impacted. To no one’s surprise, multiple labor lawsuits have since been initiated.
This trend will likely continue into the new year, as January is typically the month with the most layoffs and firings. While the ultimate goal is to save money, laying off a large portion of staff can leave a company’s employer brand in a precarious position, particularly as employee satisfaction has become more instrumental for retention in the past three years than ever before.
Much like the old adage “you have to spend money to make money,” employers have to invest some time and resources in crafting a compassionate approach to layoffs if they want to avoid legions of disgruntled employees and a tarnished reputation among the workforce.
“When you’re laid off, it’s a shock. You are thinking, ‘What the heck? What is going on? What is going to happen?’” LeRon Barton shared. He’s been laid off twice, and they were substantially different in more ways than one.
The first time he was laid off, he knew it was coming. “The company had horrible management,” he said. “When I was laid off, they gave me the unemployment benefits package, told me a few things, and said take care. It was handled coldly.”
Recently, though, following six months as a Network Provisioning Tech for a telecom company he was laid off again. “The HR staff was very graceful, meaning they didn’t look at you as a number, but as a human,” he said.
Barton described another way his last employer went the extra mile during layoff: “The company explained what was going on and why, and gave us funds that allowed us to transition easier.”
Not only was the severance package generous, but his former employer contacted the unemployment office on his (and other laid off colleagues) to not only take the extra to-do list item off their hands, but to provide referrals for future positions.
Flatly, layoffs are never fun to go through — but Barton says he’ll remember this employer for offering meaningful support and care during a difficult time.
The severance package he received also included benefits. In a time where benefits are such a huge factor in attracting and retaining talent, extending benefits for laid off employees — especially around family planning and mental health — is another great way to offer employees the support they deserve as they take on unforeseen uncertainty in their lives.
Of course generous severance packages can soften the blow, but they’re not always feasible for employers who only went down this road to cut costs in the first place. But as Barton pointed out, there are far more ways to offer employees support and compassion to ease their separation from the company.
Mika Burstein has been laid off twice, and much like Barton’s experience his two former companies handled them differently. After working three years in sales at a nonprofit organization that helps raise money for scholarships and scholar services for students attending highly ranked public universities in the US, his company downsized and he was laid off in July of 2021.
Job searching and the hiring process are often lengthy and time consuming, which doesn’t quite align to the urgency laid off employees feel as their severance package times out. To help employees impacted by the layoffs find a steady paycheck faster, Burstein’s company provided access to a job portal with postings at affiliate organizations.
“It was helpful because some job listings are classified as 'internal only' recruitment, which means the applicant pool will be made up of candidates that already work at the organization or its affiliates,” he said. Not only did he have access to more jobs, he was able to apply among a smaller group of candidates.
Whether it’s specific CEOs and owners or a widespread toxic work culture leading to mismanaged layoffs, rehabilitating a damaged employer reputation takes more than improving the optics. But often the culprits in these stories don’t get the memo.
On December 5, 2019, a damning account of mistreatment came out about luggage company Away’s company culture. CEO Steph Korey stepped down by December 9 only to rejoin the company and be a co-CEO to her replacement. With the same leadership, much of the same personnel and little time passed, it would be nearly impossible to institute real change, and then the global pandemic hit three months later.
Former Head of Global and Community Marketing, Julie Anderson joined Away in September 2019. “I was laid off during their first rounds of layoffs — quite early in the pandemic — at the beginning of April,” she said. “I wasn't given any notice. I didn't necessarily think that non-business critical roles (one especially supporting retail) would be on the "books" forever in a global pandemic, but I certainly wasn't expecting it to be cut so quickly.”
In the midst of the layoffs, Away’s newly departed and remaining team banded together — “The channel happened almost immediately. Because we were all logged out of Slack, email, etc., immediately, we didn't know who got laid off and who didn't get laid off,” she recalls.
“Luckily, a few of us started reaching out to people on LinkedIn or over text to check in. When we learned how many people were let go, an employee initiated "Away Alum" slack channel started as a place for us to stay connected and support one another through uncertainty and change.”
Before long the Slack channel evolved into more than a support system. “It then transitioned into a job board of sorts (“hey X name, this looks right up your alley”). Three years later and it's still alive,” she said. “This has become a community of ex-colleagues that check-in with recommendations, ideas, and hiring updates.”
The longevity of the Slack channel underscores an important point for employers to consider during layoffs: you can remove an employee from your company, but you can’t remove them from their whole professional network, where news of unscrupulous employers has a way of spreading like wildfire.
Never forget: the power of an employee’s personal network goes both ways, and it all comes out in the wash of employer reputation. If you treat employees with respect during the hard times and the good, you’ll come to be known for that among the workforce — and ready to weather whatever 2023 brings.