The days of learning you were fired in a meeting with your boss seem to be disappearing as companies turn to increasingly impersonal methods of cutting jobs.
Tech companies in the midst of cost-cutting efforts are using email to lay off staff, eliminating one-to-one communications, in a move that threatens to make an already difficult situation worse for those affected. For example, Meta Platforms Inc. last week announced another 10,000 job cuts as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivers on his promise to control costs in its “efficiency year.” But the laid-off workers, many of whom work remotely, did not find out they had lost their jobs via phone calls from managers. Instead, they learned their plight through “impersonal and automated” emails, says a former Meta employee. “We knew there would be more layoffs, so it wasn’t a total shock,” recruiter Mary Prescott told Insider, “but the way it was done was very cold and corporate.”
Meta isn’t the only company to use email to relay bad news. Amazon.com Inc. also emailed fired staff during its January cuts spree. So did Alphabet Inc.’s Google earlier this year. Former Google employees say the emails, which did not explain why posts were being cut, were sent to people on sick leave, someone who had been employed for 20 years and, in one case, to a woman giving birth. .
Receiving an email announcing that you have been fired seems serious enough, but it can be even harder. At Twitter Inc., some employees learned they had been made redundant after discovering they no longer had access to their computers. Another employee asked Elon Musk on Twitter if he was still employed. Other companies have moved to mass culls via video conferencing. In 2021, the CEO of Better.com went viral for laying off 900 employees at the same time during a Zoom call, telling attendees, “If you’re on that call, you’re part of the unlucky group that’s being laid off. Your employment here is terminated with immediate effect. He was forced to take time off after public outcry.
Experts say the dehumanization of layoffs is part of a troubling trend in the tech industry that’s becoming more common as employees work offsite due to remote and hybrid working arrangements. “There appears to be a downward spiral in the way tech layoffs are handled,” said labor attorneys Howard Levitt and Kathryn Marshall of Levitt-Sheikh LLP. “The rise of the remote workforce may cause employers to forget that there are real humans behind computer screens.”
Impersonal methods of job cuts are not welcomed by workers. A recent employee survey in the United States found that 85% believe email terminations are a mistake, with 72% saying an in-person meeting should be the norm, according to Eagle Hill Consulting LLC.
Companies may think it’s more efficient to fire large numbers of employees via email — especially if they work out of the office — but such actions could come back to haunt them. “Over the long term, employers who do not fire workers with dignity will develop a reputation for being disrespectful to their workforce,” Melissa Jezior, managing director of Eagle Hill Consulting LLC, said in a press release. . “And that will ultimately hurt a company’s brand, reputation, ability to attract workers and bottom line.”
Indeed, studies show that layoffs can reduce the productivity of workers left behind, with many experiencing some sort of low-intensity trauma after the cuts. According to a 2020 study by The Myers-Briggs Co., one-third of employees say they have felt survivor guilt when watching co-workers lose their jobs in mass shootings. That means employers should go the extra mile to ensure redundancies are done with respect, John Hackston, head of thought leadership at Myers-Briggs, told The Telegraph.
Employers who do not fire workers with dignity will develop a reputation for being disrespectful to their workforce
Melissa Jezior, Managing Director, Eagle Hill Consulting
“Employers have to make sure they don’t say things like ‘well, you should be happy to have a job.’ They also need to treat those made redundant as human as possible, and the remaining employees need to see that they do,” he said.
To make the layoffs more respectful, companies should announce the news in face-to-face meetings, Jezior told Eagle Hill. Of course, it’s more difficult when employees are working from home. But employers should still make the effort, attorneys Levitt and Marshall said. “It’s simple. Treat people like people, not like robots.
As it stands, remote workers don’t have the same protections as office workers during mass layoffs. For example, under the labor laws in force in the province of Ontario, people who work exclusively from home are not entitled to eight weeks’ notice or the compensatory allowance required for employees who work from from the office. Labor Minister Monte McNaughton is proposing changes to the law to ensure remote workers get their due. “Whether you go to work every day or not should not determine what is due to you. No billion-dollar company should treat its remote employees like second-class employees,” he said in a statement announcing his plans.
One would think that extending dignity to all employees – distant or not – should not be enshrined in law. Yet we all see respect being regularly pushed aside as companies fire people over email, or worse, don’t notify them at all. Ontario’s decision to enshrine the rights of remote workers in law is a step in the right direction. But it would be nice if companies realized the negative effects of cold layoff practices on their remaining workforce, reputation and balance sheets without being forced into it.
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A version of this story first appeared in the FP Work newsletter, a curated look at the changing world of work. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.