sEngineer Ivan Tarasov read the email before boarding an international flight from Helsinki to the US Bobby Nath, vice president of user experience, read it half awake after his home Google Nest Hub asked him to connect the system to his work email for the first time. Temidayo Moses, the program director, found out when he tried to check his email before taking his family, who were visiting in town, to tour the office where he works.
These emails, at least as described in separate LinkedIn posts, were sent by Google’s parent company Alphabet to about 12,000 employees in January, letting them know they were part of the latest batch of sweeping job cuts in technology, which has now affected the workforce. Nearly 78,000 tech industry workers lost their jobs in January alone, according to layoffs.fyi. On social media, employees of the tech giant — including some who have worked with Google for more than a decade — described the “transactional” nature of the messages and the shock of waking up to an email and not having a way to contact colleagues.
Welcome to the era of digital pink slide. Recruitment, placement outsourcing, and staffing experts say that while it’s not yet widespread, they’re seeing more examples, particularly in the technology sector, of companies notifying workers of their layoffs via email. At Twitter, emails were the way to tell employees whether they were part of the roughly 50% of the company that was let go after Elon Musk’s acquisition. Salesforce and Meta workers who were laid off on LinkedIn described first learning the news via email.
“Last week was a complete nightmare when I worked until 3am only to find out I was laid off at 5:30am as part of the thousands of employees let go from Salesforce without saying goodbye,” former Salesforce software engineer Mohamed Hadid Noshab wrote on Twitter. Linkedin, where he described that he faced a deadline for a new job or he could lose his visa. “Waking up to this email puts me in a very awkward position,” he wrote.
(Tarasov, Nath, and Moses did not immediately respond to a LinkedIn request to speak; Naushab confirmed the email notification. A Google spokesperson declined to comment but pointed to an email posted online sent to employees from CEO Sundar Pichai. Do not immediately respond to a request. For comment; In emails posted online, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says workers can speak with someone after they receive news via email; Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff says leadership will reach out to employees after mail email.)
Experts point to a range of explanations for why tech companies use the email approach, from the reality of communicating with a remote, globally distributed workforce to a potential shortage of HR staff available to manage layoff discussions at a time when those teams have suffered a disproportionate number of cuts. posts themselves. Some have suggested the need for notifications to go out simultaneously in the age of LinkedIn posts and Slack channels, where news can spread quickly.
But Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says such explanations do not make emailed layoff notices a good alternative. “There have been studies of how layoffs can be done in ways that are less harmful than in the ways that are done,” Pfeffer says, noting that research shows job cuts, even if done “well” and with a long break, have lasting effects on company performance. . “If you let people say goodbye, if you treat them with some respect and dignity… if you show some sympathy, sympathy, or whatever — that’s even better.”
He and others have called e-mail notifications of layoffs impersonal, even “heartless.” “It’s very detached,” says Amy Zimmerman, chief personnel officer for Relay Payments. “You’ve been with us for so many years—you’ve contributed to the company, you’ve been loyal and committed. You’re supposed to have sacrificed in some ways. That’s the thank you you get? It feels wildly inappropriate.”
Andy Challenger, senior vice president at outside placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says the backlash over layoffs made via videoconference earlier in the pandemic — when Better.com CEO Vishal Garg cut 900 jobs across Zoom – It may give some tech companies pause about the risk of screen capture or video going viral. Videos of CEOs [doing layoffs]Especially if it’s in front of a live audience—they always suck,” Challenger says.
He says he’s been talking to HR decision-makers who are struggling with how to get the news across with so many employees still working remotely. “Do you bring people in to let them go in person, or do you let them go over Zoom? Do you cause more pain by asking someone who was telecommuting to drive into town just to drop them off and then have to go home alone?”
Challenger also believes that the rapid growth of the technology sector for decades may mean that they were not prepared to manage mass layoffs. He says the industry has “just expanded at such a wild pace for decades now that they’re just not used to these kinds of cuts going in.”
Another factor may be that HR staff have been disproportionately affected by job cuts, says Patrick McAdams, CEO of technology staffing firm Andiamo, and there may not be enough people to help moderate one-on-one discussions. “These are the people who were going to lead some of those [conversations],” he says. In layoffs, there is “a need to have an HR business partner,” he says, but in some cases, there is “such a limited number.”
McAdams says companies may also see an email notification as a way to balance fairness, timing, and effort to communicate accurately at scale. But when “everyone communicates with them the same way, you lose the human side of it,” especially for people who may have been employees for a decade at the company.
Several laid-off Google employees, who were not identified because of concerns about termination or criticism of a previous employer during a job search, described not having formal meetings with a manager or company-wide town council to provide news; Instead, their access to the internal systems where email layoff notices were delivered was cut off.
Legal teams tend to be influential in such decisions, says Peter Capelli, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies human resources, rather than managers who might be concerned about the impact of such impersonal approaches on future hiring prospects.
“It defers to the lawyers who are trying to drive the legal stakes down to zero,” he says. While many companies are still hiring, “you’re building bridges with people who might have to come back and hire again.”
HR managers who have worked in the industry for years bemoaned layoffs on a massive scale that couldn’t have been done with a more personal touch. “Getting an email in the middle of the night without a phone call from your line manager is awful,” says Jenny Dearborn, a board director and former HR leader who has helped manage tech downsizing in the past.
Having remote workers is no excuse, she says, remembering the time she had to lay off workers and asked to travel to Toronto to break the news to one long-term employee who held special respect in the organization. “The way you’re supposed to work is you hear about it from your line manager — that’s the most human thing,” says Dearborn.
“When companies do it well, there’s a very coordinated chain of communication where … everybody has to complete these phone calls at that level by 10 o’clock,” she says, for example. “Humans throughout history have been great at organizing,” Dearborn says [job cuts] With much less technology and with a lot more care, insight, and humanity.”