A friend who has also lived through some interesting layoff experiences recently sent me an earlier headline from a similar source about this story of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff going on a luxury retreat to French Polynesia when there were layoffs at the company. She quite rightly referenced bad optics.
When we initially saw the story, it said that Benioff had gone on this trip right AFTER the layoffs, which… is a real bad look. It has now apparently been clarified that the trip was shortly BEFORE the layoffs. One imagines, however, that he was well aware that said layoffs were coming. There really are no good optics here.
Here’s the thing: If someone brings up this incident to me five years from now, which version do you think I’ll remember? It would absolutely be the “fiddling while Rome burns” version. Why? Because it’s plausible. It’s been plausible for a long time, and it becomes more so with every big tech layoff that goes public.
So, CEOs and other leadership types: Don’t do that. In fact, if you know layoffs are coming up, or you just announced some, I would be very careful about doing things or going places that your laid-off or soon-to-be-laid-off staff are not able to do because they don’t make the kind of money you do. Or any money, post-layoffs…
Aww hell, we’re already into it, so I guess it’s time for another late-stage capitalist checklist of How Not To Execute Your Layoffs.
Further to exotic luxury travel any time around layoffs, bringing some friends along with you doesn’t make it OK, either. Don’t execute a large round of layoffs while you’re in a tropical paradise with a hand-picked selection of winners and favourites, who you notify about those layoffs (which will include their staff back home) before sailing off for a day of cocktails and catamarans. Hmm, a strangely specific example, that.
I also wouldn’t recommend flying in or out on your private jet right before and after the layoffs. Again, optics. I’m sure some would be horrified by this advice, either thinking about having to stick around a sad, chaotic, gutted office, or flying commercial.
That said, leadership not showing up at all and leaving the execution of the layoffs to local managers also isn’t a good look. Especially when the managers don’t get much of a heads-up and seem as gobsmacked as everyone else.
I mean, just because everyone knows C-levels make orders of magnitude more money than average joes, and just because everyone knows the company just posted record profits, and even though the execs are well aware that they are depriving people of their livelihoods, is it really necessary to actually show up and tell everyone in person? Don’t they understand how busy execs are generating shareholder value?
Please enjoy this deeply heartfelt statement crafted by committee and vetted by assorted lawyers. And no, presenting a recorded video of your heartfelt statement is no better than sending a company-wide memo.
Right, memos. Don’t make the layoff announcement the 11th paragraph of a long, rambly memo. Don’t blame the layoffs on any and everything you can spin into business jargon. Especially, as noted, if you’ve announced record profits. The company brass made this decision; it’s not the fault of “market conditions.”
Further to record profits, or even if your books are all in the red, don’t cheap out on severance and don’t try to screw people out of it entirely. Don’t keep them around after you’ve told them they’ll be losing their jobs to avoid paying severance. Don’t rely on the fact that people will run out of money before your company does if they try to sue for what they’re owed. Don’t insult people who were loyal and worked their butts off by offering the legal minimum. “Generous severance” is a statement like “competitive compensation.” No one really believes it. Show them the money.
While we’re at it, don’t try to sugarcoat what’s happening. When you announce layoffs you are breaking things. A lot of things, more than you know. Do not promise anything you’re not in a position to deliver. Like that it will never happen again. Because there is a very good chance it will. Hell, sometimes it becomes an annual tradition!
I wonder if anyone’s ever developed a calculation to determine how many non-executive workers can be laid off over what period of time before even one executive is at risk of being held responsible for failing and fired.
Speaking of firing executives, if layoffs don’t turn things around, and the situation continues to worsen, and insufficient shareholder value is being generated, no, it is not acceptable to resort to sacrifices to the board, shareholders, or anyone else.
No animals, no infants, no virgins. No, not even the contractors that you don’t value enough to provide benefits. Can’t believe I even have to mention it, but honestly, these days? Who knows.
Do not utter the word “family.” Ever. Go read my last column.
Further to not showing up, do not execute layoffs via a giant Zoom call. Especially when all the settings are locked down and people can’t interact or respond. That was pretty popular for a while. I got laid off over Zoom once. It wasn’t even the bulk layoff version and it was still pretty pathetic.
Actually, I suppose there is one further ring of layoff hell to which we could descend: outsourcing it to a consultancy. Everyone in the company gets to keep their hands clean. Huzzah! Can you imagine that being your business? “Restructuring services.” Can you imagine having the idea to make that your business? Imagine the opportunities for jargon in your marketing materials…
Nothing says a round of layoffs is super hard for everyone and you will be deeply missed like having them carried out by some randos in polo shirts wearing visitor badges.
Oh, wait, there’s still another level of hell. I almost forgot. (How far down are we by now? It’s getting warm.) You actually have to announce the layoffs. Before you execute them.
Don’t let people find out when they try to login to their email or badge into the office or whatever and it doesn’t work. Been a lot of that going around lately. Having people learning they’ve lost their jobs after already having been discarded is really callous. Having your notification go into your spam folder in your personal email because of the source or content is pretty bad, too. Or just thinking it’s spam or a scam because it’s so badly done.
Also, having to then do the company the favour of working with them to return your stuff is just adding insult to injury. Granted, the complete lack of preparation or handover, etc. and the chaos and misery it will cause is one small, petty satisfaction to stick it to the company in such a situation. Though I imagine a few thousand Twitter employees could tell you it’s cold comfort, comparatively.
So there you have it. Just a few friendly tips to enable execution of layoffs in ways that won’t become newsworthy. However, I’m confident companies will soon come up with a host of creative ways to cut staff that haven’t been covered here and would never even occur to decent human beings.
Announcing layoffs from space? Issuing the notifications using AI bots? Getting massive PR goodwill for finding new employment for everyone, then having it revealed you’ve sold them into indentured servitude? The sky’s the limit!
Seriously, though, I’m not kidding about the sacrifices.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.