Forget Zoom layoffs. Email job cuts are Tech’s latest digital pink slip

SOftware engineer Ivan Tarasov read the email just before boarding an international flight from Helsinki to the United States. Bobby Nath, vice president of user experience, read it half-awake after the Google Nest Hub at his house asked him to link the system to his work email for the first time. Temidayo Moses, a program manager, discovered this when he tried to check his emails just before taking family members, who were visiting in town, to visit the office where he worked.

These emails, at least as described in separate LinkedIn posts, were sent by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to some 12,000 employees in January, letting them know they were part of the latest installment of sweeping tech job cuts, which have now affected nearly 78,000 companies in the tech industry. workers in January alone, according to the website. On social media, the tech giant’s employees, including some who had worked for Google for more than a decade, described the “transactional” nature of the messages and the shock of waking up to an email and no way to contact colleagues.

Welcome to the era of the digital pink slip. Recruitment, outplacement and employment experts say that while not yet widespread, they are seeing more and more examples, particularly in the tech sector, of companies informing workers that they are fired by e-mail. On Twitter, emails were the method of telling employees if they were among the roughly 50% of the company that was laid off after the Elon Musk takeover. The terminated Salesforce and Meta employees described on LinkedIn that they first learned of the news via email.

“Last week was a total nightmare when I worked until 3 a.m. only to find out that I had been fired at 5:30 a.m. among the thousands of employees who were fired from Salesforce without any goodbyes” , said the former Salesforce software engineer. Muhammad Hadeed Noshab wrote on LinkedIn, where he described facing a deadline for a new job or he could lose his visa. “Waking up to this email put me in a very stuck position,” he wrote.

(Tarasov, Nath and Moses did not immediately respond to a LinkedIn request to speak; Noshab confirmed the email notification. A Google spokesperson declined to comment but pointed to an email posted email that was sent to employees by CEO Sundar Pichai. Salesforce and Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment; in emails posted online, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said workers could speak to someone after receiving the news via email; Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff said management would contact employees after the email.)

Experts point to a range of explanations why tech companies may use the email approach, from the realities of communicating with a remote and globally distributed workforce to a possible lack of employees in human resources available to handle redundancy discussions at a time when these teams have themselves suffered a disproportionate number of job cuts. Some have suggested that reviews should be posted simultaneously in the age of LinkedIn posts and Slack channels, where news can spread quickly.

But Jeffrey Pfeffer, a management professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says such explanations don’t make email layoff notifications a good alternative. “There have been studies on how to do layoffs in a way that does less damage and that’s not how they’re done,” Pfeffer says, noting that research shows job cuts, even if they are “good” and with long allowances. , have lasting impacts on business performance. “If you let people say goodbye, if you treat them with some respect and dignity…if you show sympathy, empathy, whatever, it’s better.”

He and others have described emailed layoff notifications as an impersonal, even “heartless” approach. “It’s so detached,” says Amy Zimmerman, director of human resources at Relay Payments. “You have been with us for many years, you have contributed to the business, you have been loyal and committed. Presumably, you sacrificed yourself in some ways. Is that the thank you get? It just seems inadequate.

Andy Challenger, senior vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the backlash from layoffs made via videoconference at the start of the pandemic – when CEO Vishal Garg cut 900 jobs via Zoom — could give some tech companies pause about the risk of a screenshot or video going viral. “CEO Videos [doing layoffs]especially if it’s in front of a live audience, they always go wrong,” says Challenger.

He says he’s spoken to HR decision makers who are struggling to get the news out with so many employees still working remotely. “Do you bring people in to let them go in person, or do you let them go via Zoom? Do you cause more pain by asking someone who was working remotely to drive into town just to be released and then drive home alone? »

Challenger also thinks the rapid growth of the tech sector for decades could mean they were unprepared to handle massive layoffs. The industry, he says, “has been growing at such a breakneck pace for decades now that it’s not used to this kind of downsizing.”

Patrick McAdams, CEO of tech staffing firm Andiamo, says another factor may be that human resources staff have been disproportionately affected by the job cuts, and that there may be no just not enough people to help oversee individual discussions. “These are the people who would have led some of these [conversations],” he says. In layoffs, there’s a “need to have an HR business partner present,” he says, but in some cases there’s “such a limited number.”

McAdams says companies can also see email notification as a way to balance fairness, speed, and an effort to communicate accurately at scale. But when “everyone communicates the same way, you lose the human aspect of it,” especially for people who may have been employees of the company for a decade.

Several fired Google employees, who were granted anonymity due to concerns over severance or criticizing a former employer during a job search, described having had no formal meeting with a manager. or a company-wide town hall to announce the news; instead, they had access to internal systems cut off as e-mail layoff notifications were sent.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who studies human resources, says legal teams tend to be influential in such decisions, rather than managers who may be concerned about the impact of such approaches. impersonal about future job prospects.

“It’s relying on lawyers trying to reduce the legal risk to zero,” he says. At a time when many companies are still hiring, “you’re cutting ties with people you may have to turn around and hire again.”

HR executives who have worked in the industry for years lament that large-scale layoffs can’t be done with a more personal touch. Jenny Dearborn, a board member and former human resources manager who has helped manage tech downsizing in the past, says “getting an email in the middle of the night without a phone call from your direct boss is awful”.

Having remote workers is no excuse, she says, recalling a time when she had to make layoffs and asked to fly to Toronto to break the news to a longtime employee. who was particularly respected in the organization. “The way it’s supposed to work is you hear about it from your direct boss — it’s the most human thing,” Dearborn says.

“When companies do it well,” she says, “there’s this highly orchestrated communications cascade where … everyone has to end those phone calls at that level by 10 a.m.,” for example. Dearborn says “humans throughout history have been amazing at orchestrating [job cuts] with much less technology and much more care, insight and humanity.

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