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July 🤔: Summer and Layoffs Heat Up

From our Remote Works Monthly Newsletter. Sign-up today here.

We’ve felt some of that summertime sadness. No, it’s not the heatwave, though we wish it were cooler in the UK and Boston. In Ali’s recent trip to the seaside, she’s felt the blues literally—looking up at the blue sky and down into the sea—and metaphorically when she returns to her desk to see the rampant news of lay-offs across her former industry: tech. It feels heavy to know that lives have been changed overnight due to layoffs at Shopify, Vimeo, Hopin, and more. As organizational designers, the news got us thinking: there has to be a better way forward. Therefore this month, we leave you with a different set of thoughts, while not wholly remote-related, relevant to critical issues facing the workplace today.

Three Reflections on Lay-offs:

  1. The Recession Excuse: Most lay-offs point to the same rationale: the looming recession. Foreseeing tough times ahead, they’ve reduced staff. (Or a more cynical side might see it as an excuse to trim the fat.) Regardless of the motivation, there are a few lessons. First, there are benefits to slower, more intentional growth. The company with the most headcount does not win. It's good business acumen to prioritize the “Most Important Tasks” and do "more with less'' all the time, not just during a recession. Second, companies often take a short-term perspective with lay-offs that have a long-term impact on their talent pipeline.

  2. Problems with the “Family” Model: The lay-off news hits harder if you’ve been told that you’re a “family.” According to Frederic Laloux, the green model of organizations has claimed the last ten years, focused on empowerment, culture, and values. The metaphor is literally “the family.” Unfortunately, companies tend to only buy into the family model when it works for the bottom line, asking employees towork longer, harder, and make sacrifices. It is traumatic when a company reverts to a business-only mindset during dire times (when you need support the most). It can devastate the affected employee’s sense of identity, community, and overall wellness. This is why we believe it’s important to get your needs met outside of work and for companies to live up to their values during the good and hard times. There is nothing wrong with being a business as long as you are transparent about what that means from the get-go.

  3. Considering Alternatives, Delivering the News Remotely, and Who’s Left: Leadership tends to take a binary view: keep employees or lay off. But we believe that’s a false dichotomy. We suggest exploring alternatives to cut operational costs, whether voluntary lay-offs (think giving up your seat for a voucher on an airline), but also offering alternatives to full-time work (think job-sharing, part-time work, project-based work, and sabbaticals). If business leaders still decide lay-offs are the best option, then it’s essential to be intentional about delivering the news, especially remotely. How can you ensure collective time to mourn, say goodbye, and answer logistical questions? Lastly, for the employees left behind, it’s essential to think of their well-being, or they might be the next to go. How can you address their anxieties and prevent burnout from taking on their departed colleagues’ work?

In short, layoffs are sad, messy, and complicated. We need to design work, thinking about employees’ entire journeys in an organization—from that first call with the recruiter to the last day at work (however it may end). It’s not enough to be human. We need to be humane—especially during layoffs, and remote is no exception.

Reflection Questions:

  1. As a leader, how can you lean on company values when making cost-cutting decisions?

  2. As a manager, how can you support your team remotely after layoffs?

  3. As an employee, how are you getting your needs met outside of work?


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