Employers Want to Fire Workers Without Getting Shamed on TikTok

The surge in TikTok videos featuring disastrous layoff experiences has prompted companies to seek assistance in navigating these challenging conversations. Previously private workplace interactions, including sensitive discussions about layoffs, are now widely shared on social media platforms. Intimate details and recordings of these events are being publicly dissected, from CEOs' apology messages to how human resources managers handle the announcements.

 This heightened fear of backlash on social media has led executives, particularly those from smaller tech companies lacking robust HR departments, to seek guidance on executing layoffs without negative repercussions. One startup, Onwards HR, specializing in layoff logistics, reported a 300% increase in its customer base last year, as organizations look for strategies to avoid potential social media fallout. Sarah Rodehorst, co-founder and chief executive of Onwards HR, highlighted the growing concern: "They're seeking advice on how to handle layoffs to prevent public backlash, especially in the era of social media scrutiny."  

While the overall jobs market data remains robust, big job cuts are nonetheless showing up in a slew of industries to start the year, most notably in tech, where several of America’s largest employers are nixing hundreds or thousands of positions. United Parcel Service Inc. also announced last week that it will slash 12,000 management jobs, and Citigroup Inc. has said it plans to eliminate 20,000 roles by 2026.

Onwards HR offers companies a centralized platform to standardize the layoff process, automate severance payments, and enable smoother collaboration across HR, legal, and finance teams. But customers want more than just technology, Rodehorst said. They want step-by-step guidance on how to have tough conversations with people who are being let go. Rodehorst tells her clients that they should allow every laid-off worker the opportunity to meet with their manager to ask questions. Meticulous planning is another non-negotiable.

Rodehorst has culled these best practices from experience, but she’s considering offering more formal training and certification programs since there’s so much demand.

A mismanaged layoff can damage a company’s reputation and its recruiting. Last month, an employee at tech firm Cloudflare shared a recording of her layoff on TikTok, unleashing a torrent of criticism. The CEO said Cloudflare made a mistake in “not being more kind and humane,” in a statement on X.

Internally, layoffs can even result in other employees calling it quits. Worker morale often languishes for months after a massive round of job cuts, according to employer review site Glassdoor Inc.

Employee Sentiment Stagnates Post-Layoff

Average Glassdoor ratings from 0, "very dissatisfied," to 5, "very satisfied"

Source: Glassdoor

Note: Glassdoor identified 111 layoffs in the US between Feb. 2022 and May 2023 and analyzed the average ratings 90 days pre-layoff and 180 days post-layoff across those companies.

Regardless of social media, HR experts say layoffs should always be handled with care.

“You could be ruining someone’s life,” said Jenny Dearborn, a veteran HR officer who has helped restructure tech firms, including the now-defunct Sun Microsystems, which recruited her in 2003 to help the company move some jobs abroad.

At Hewlett-Packard in the late 1990s, Dearborn says the company showed a tape of an executive talking about the emotional toll layoffs can take on individuals, their families, and their identities. Decades later, one line stayed with her: “If you don’t stay up all night sick to your stomach, then you’re not doing it right.”

Last year, Kim Rohrer helped lead two separate job cuts at hiring and payroll platform Oyster that impacted about 120 people. The fully-remote company had to comply with labor laws across 70 countries and coordinate day-of communication across time zones. It was “extremely complicated,” she said.

Rohrer and her team advised managers on how to deliver the news over Zoom — use a natural, warm, and empathetic tone of voice — and what to do if the conversation got contentious. They had scripts prepared for different situations and different reactions. They also put together over 20 pages of documentation addressing common questions like how to access benefits and how handoffs will work for ongoing projects.

Both times Oyster laid off workers, HR kept the timing of the notifications tight. The employees were given a bonus week of paid time off so they could review the information and ask questions before they were officially let go. They were also encouraged to apply for other open roles at the company.

In September, Rohrer found her own name on the cut list. “I know what you’re going to say, it’s fine,” she recalled telling her bosses at the time. “I wrote the script.”

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