Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 27, 2023. Updated 7:30 am.
We are all familiar with the impersonal methods used by Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook when they “lay off” thousands of employees at once. Most all of those being laid off will not be recalled, so it’s more descriptive to say those employees are being terminated.
Those being terminated en masse first learn they no longer work for their company by losing access to their organization’s IT network. Their electronic credentials are canceled, denying them access to company facilities, or they wake up to an email notification sent in the middle of the night informing them they are no longer employed by the company.
Being terminated is a huge blow to an individual. These impersonal methods demonstrate that the company doesn’t care about them. CEOs wonder why employees aren’t loyal to the company. They need to look in the mirror.
On Jan. 20, Google announced it was terminating 12,000 employees en masse. As reported by Business Insider, 1,400 employees signed an open letter to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet (parent of Google), asking that he make a public commitment to:
- Freeze all new hires during the layoff process. First ask for voluntary redundancies and voluntary working time reduction before compulsory redundancies.
- Grant priority rehire to any Alphabet employees that have been recently laid off.
- Protect our co-workers from countries with active conflicts or humanitarian crises (such as Ukraine, Russia, etc.).
- Respect scheduled leaves (maternity, baby bonding, care providers and bereavement) and do not give notice until the leave is finished.
- Ensure there will not be discriminatory effects based on sex, gender identity, veteran status, religion and disability.
We call on you and Alphabet more broadly to make these critical public commitments. Our company has long touted its commitment to doing right by its users and workers, and these commitments will show Alphabet adhering to the final line of its Code of Conduct: Don’t Be Evil.
A very powerful indictment by these employees of Google on how it’s conducting en masse terminations. Hopefully, Pichai and the CEOs of other tech companies won’t be tone-deaf to the concerns of their employees.
Employees should be ideally informed they are being terminated personally by their boss and a member of the HR department. This helps to lessen the blow. When thousands of employees are about to be terminated at the same time, this in-person method isn’t practical.
Mass terminations could be avoided if management continuously evaluated their employees’ performance as well as the staffing needs of the company and made adjustments on an ongoing basis. This method would permit employees about to be terminated to be treated on an individual basis, which is a more personal and humane approach to right-sizing the organization.
As I was rising up through my company to the position of CEO, I learned that informing a direct report that “we are going to part company” takes some of the sting out of them being informed they are being terminated. I gave them time to process the news with their family before their departure date. However, if I felt the individual’s immediate departure was in the best interests of the company or they would be adversarial or a security risk, they left the company that day.
In many cases, I let the individual participate in writing their internal departure announcement. I let them tell their direct reports before their departure was publicly announced.
I didn’t want to burn bridges with the individual, nor did I want them to burn bridges with me or the company. They needed a recommendation, and in most situations, I gave them one. I have placed individuals who departed the company into my network to help them get a new job. Those who burned bridges did not receive the help others received.
Evaluate employee performance and the staffing needs of your company and make changes on an ongoing basis. Avoid terminations en masse. Inform each employee who is about to be terminated individually. How you handle terminations is a reflection of you as a leader.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.