So, layoffs are weird

This past week my previous employer laid off roughly 3% of its staff. A lot of people lost jobs, and I personally worked with about two dozen of them and knew those folks pretty well.


I’m not going to pretend that this was a massively unexpected surprise; this is absolutely something that happens with over-hiring and sketchy management of performance for large groups of skilled employees. I’m surprised it hadn’t happened already, to be completely honest. But I can’t ignore the fact that layoffs are a really weird/sad thing and I’ve been thinking about it more than I care to in the past few days.

Layoffs are especially weird in 21st-century society, in that we’re able to easily rally for each other on a social network and get out of laid-off status in a matter of hours. I posted twice on LinkedIn offering to help or talk to anyone affected by the layoffs, and these were by far the most popular posts I’ve ever made on a social network, ever. Not only did laid-off folks appreciate it (I spend much of yesterday afternoon responding to folks looking for tips on remote work), but dozens of former colleagues, current colleagues and people I’ve never met liked and commented on what I had to say. Most of those people also had their thing to say, and most of the thoughts were exactly the same: offers to help or talk, the processing of “many feelings” with ultimate optimism and gratitude.

It almost feels compulsory, that you must post about one of these things because everyone else in your circle is already doing it: if you’re not grateful to the employer that laid you off, you’re an ass. That compulsory feeling leads it the emotions almost feeling fake. I genuinely do want to help because I think a lot of highly-skilled and intelligent people aren’t aware of the possibilities out there beyond open office environments at well-intentioned-but-sometimes-overzealous e-commerce companies. I also want to make sure folks are okay with expressing frustration or constructive criticism at their previous employers, because without that it’s hard to imagine companies getting smarter about how they hire and evaluate the need for teams & individuals if everyone’s grateful for the company that took away their lifeline on a moment’s notice.

At least people come together to help each other in the face of a bad situation.

I saw some recruiter posting about a job fair for the folks affected, and his post mentioned layoffs at another company. I then started digging and realized just how many companies – large, highly-reputed, tech companies – are growing too quickly or cannot meet the demand of the market in which they compete. Tripadvisor had layoffs last month, AthenaHealth did last year, so did State Street, and there are rumors flying around that LogMeIn also did recently. Turns out dozens of Boston-based companies have had pretty major layoffs in the past decade.

Another friendly reminder that the primary goal of these businesses is to grow and profit, and the care of its employees over time becomes pretty secondary. If you can find a place where you’re felt taken care of well enough, then good on you.

It’s hard to be helpful in a way that doesn’t feel alienating to someone. Here’s an attempt.

Some advice to anyone who was surprised by it: pay more attention to your employer’s hiring goals, earnings calls, performance review process and the perceived performance of those around you. You’ll quickly realize that there’s plenty of places from which to trim fat in a pinch.

Or here’s some other advice that I’m perpetually working on myself: make it so that a layoff doesn’t affect you that much. This can be done in multiple ways, but here are three I’ve really focused on:

  • Pay very close attention to how your current or next employer runs things: how it spends money, its hiring goals, how it runs performance evaluations, where its profits come from. Ask questions if you don’t understand things or don’t find the information you’re looking for. If you can’t get answers, think about why you’re not getting answers. Ideally, you’ll find a company that is clear with how it runs things and that aligns with your values.

  • Don’t be confined by where you live. Yes, relocation can be hard, but also, remote work is very much a thing that you should not ignore. A quick search with the right keywords (think “remote [position] jobs”) will net you some interesting stuff to consider. If you like being in an office, coworking spaces do exist, and some companies will even cover this expense if you play your cards right.

  • Build up safety nets in other work, and, if you can, find a job that will enable you the time to do this. This is the classic side hustle argument. Most people I know who work in tech are so consumed by their work that it feels impossible to make time to do things on the side. My advice? Unless you truly love your work, don’t work for companies that consume you. My previous employer was one of those, and while I loved the work for a long time, once I stopped loving it I needed to get out.

I’ll stop talking now.