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How not to fire people — and why we need to rethink how we approach layoffs

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 11/30/2022 Peter Firth
FILES-US-INTERNET-IT-PURCHASE-TWITTER © AFP via Getty Images FILES-US-INTERNET-IT-PURCHASE-TWITTER

When researchers pose the survey question: where would you most like to work? Big tech companies usually come high in the rankings.

Liberal paychecks, charismatic leaders and brand appeal help lure some of the best candidates to places like Apple and Alphabet.

But in late 2022, working at such places feels riskier.

The axe has fallen on thousands of tech jobs. Companies that were once fated for infinite growth are facing a harsh reminder of the realities of the market. While layoffs at Twitter and Meta have dominated headlines, mass layoffs have happened elsewhere too. HP recently announced that it would be laying off 4,000 to 6,000 roles in the coming three years, while Cisco has announced a similar cull of jobs. “Don’t think of this as a headcount action that is motivated by cost savings,” CFO Scott Herren said. “This really is a rebalancing.”

Tech professionals will be eyeing the headlines and hoping that nobody decides to come along and rebalance them. With so much blood in the water, others are likely trying to figure out if they’d be better off pursuing other sectors.

Elon Musk has demonstrated an eccentric interpretation of HR policy at Twitter, demanding workers commit to a work culture that promised to be “extremely hardcore”, with “long hours and high intensity”. Employees reportedly had to reply “yes” in a Google form to show they were willing. Hundreds opted for a severance package and a fresh start instead.

Companies place huge importance on giving new entrants good onboarding experiences. There are welcome drinks, office tours, new starter packs and a general love-bombing from management - less emphasis is put on firing well.

But Sue Ingram, HR coach and author, argues that handing a P45 in the right way can lead to significant business gains in the long term, and reckons that leaders who dismiss staff disrespectfully damage their company’s prospects.

“Layoffs have to happen,” Ingram says. “The business decision is cold, dispassionate, objective, but the way in which you handle it must be empathetic.” Future recruitment is a breeze when the best people are itching to return, she adds.

Ingram’s playbook for redundancies is explored in her book Fire Well: How to Fire Staff so they Thank You. She believes that the overriding objective when axing someone’s job is to give them actions to take. “Most staff who are laid off understand why this is happening. The manager doing the laying off gets it too,” she says. “It’s imperative to give people actions to take, and to ease them into their next role.” She cites things like CV writing workshops and tapping up recruiters as two helpful steps in absorbing the shock for former employees.

Analysts predict that more tech layoffs are in the works. The forces creating a slowdown here are evident in other sectors, with workers in investment banking and real estate fearing redundancies too.

Big tech companies will continue to top the most desirable places to work, even if they’re more perilous than before. A digital behemoth is a useful entry on a resume. The problem is that with so many pink slips flying around – you might soon need it.

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