Mass layoffs: Avoid hollow words and lack of accountability

After waves of tech job cuts, former Facebook talent manager explains how to treat surviving employees

Mass layoffs: Avoid hollow words and lack of accountability

Job cuts are a tough part of HR leadership. Whether it’s carrying out a wave of redundancies or just letting one person go, the impact can be seismic and the process emotionally draining. In the aftermath, therefore, it’s easy to forget the layoff survivors who are often expected to keep going as if nothing has happened.

Erin Sumner, former talent manager at Facebook and current global director of human resources at DeleteMe, a company that helps people remove online personal information, believes many companies should be handling the layoff process better. As shown by the contentious way companies like Twitter have gone about streamlining their payroll, or how Meta (Facebook’s parent company) has reportedly lost the trust of employees after job cuts, empathetic people management is often sacrificed for the bottom line.

Sumner told HRD that it’s important businesses are being fully transparent about the reasons for the layoffs and what steps are being taken to prevent them from happening again in the future. Employers should also follow up with concrete updates and actions that demonstrate their commitment to their employees.

“That's the piece a lot of people miss,” she said. “They do the layoffs and then tell employees to just ‘continue on, focus on what you can control and keep doing your day job’. They are very hollow words from people who maybe didn't lose their direct peers or people that reported to them so [it’s important] to empathize, understand that your actions have consequences, and match your actions to your words.”

Highlighting the good things that are still present in the organization can also help to rebuild morale and trust, so employers should be intentional about their efforts to support employees and focus on the long-term growth of the organization.

Another critical aspect of handling mass layoffs is to avoid dragging out the process. Employees should be notified in a clear and succinct manner and given ample time to prepare for what's to come. Companies should be proactive with communication and show empathy for the affected employees to maintain trust and morale.

Sumner points out that the optics of the situation are also important, and it is crucial to treat all employees fairly and transparently. She said this is especially true in today's age where everything is available online, including the legislation that was passed in the US that gave terminated employees the right to speak about their experience without the fear of litigation from previous employers. “That is going to be massive moving forward. The optics of that and how you treat everyone is going to be incredibly important.”

Therefore, it is essential to ensure that all employees are treated equitably, and executives are not rewarded with large bonuses while their peers are laid off. Sumner also believes top executives tend not to be held accountable for job losses, instead leaving the employees to suffer. Again, not good for optics. The unsympathetic message to staff, she said, is “don't worry, we're not letting any of the executives who made this decision go, they're all going to stay here. You all are the ones that have to suffer.”

But carrying out the process in a human, respectful way is paramount. It is inappropriate to do this over email or by having a Zoom call where management apologizes without providing any real support or information. Instead, companies should provide employees with the necessary information and resources they need to move forward, such as points of contact and answers to their questions.

In terms of avoiding mass layoffs, Sumner suggests that companies need to improve their hiring efforts by being strategic and intentional about their hiring process. When hiring, it is crucial to have a deep conversation about the responsibilities, metrics, and contributions they will make to the company's success. Companies should focus on growing in a way that makes sense for their business and operate a little leaner to avoid mass layoffs in the future. Additionally, companies should consider alternative options to mass layoffs, such as open roles in other departments that could potentially be filled by employees facing layoffs.

The tech industry's massive layoffs can be attributed to several factors, including unsustainable hiring rates during hypergrowth, talent competition, and lack of accountability by executives. While these layoffs may be a necessary part of the industry's competitive nature, companies must learn from their mistakes and take measures to prevent such situations from arising in the future.

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