Recently my LinkedIn feed delivered what felt like peak bleak. The inevitable, constant trickle of mass layoff announcements continues against a backdrop of (what my network certainly concurs is) a cynical narrative in any touted to be ‘people-first’ context.
The slowing economy is being held accountable in so many of the ‘hopes and prayers’ style apologies that are being made as thousands are told they’ve lost their jobs.
Now… I’m not trying to debate whether one could or even should argue a legitimate financial reason for headcount reduction in the current climate, that all depends on the specific business, its commercial performance, the people in charge and - not least - their degree of unscrupulousness. I am however saying that, in quite a few cases, it’s fairly obviously not the only reason for companies cutting significant portions of their workforce.
So with that facade removed - and the fact that many can’t seem to look a ‘financial crisis gift horse’ in the mouth - firmly established, let us continue…
Linkedin’s algorithm is presenting me with a heady mix of posts from people who have been unemployed for so many weeks they’ve reached breaking point, juxtaposed against tech bro’s and VC’s recommending to everyone who has kept their job, that they start doing two things: learn to nail managing up, and well, just get really good at everything, really. Be more generalist. Spread yourselves even thinner.
So this isn’t just negatively impacting those who lost their jobs, but also the ‘lucky’ ones who get to stay.
Those who amidst all the change & uncertainty and in the culture that remains, not only have to cover work (that I would confidently bet wasn’t actually redundant and hasn’t actually been replaced by tech) but also - apparently - have to dig even deeper to impression manage with their boss, and build a raft of new skill, by themselves.
It’s not really good enough, is it?
Size and shape of headcount reduction is reserved for another post (my hot take on organisational design is coming your way next week) But for now, let’s look at the delivery of a layoff announcement. I’m desperately trying to find ‘people-first’ signposts out there right now, and I’m struggling.
I’m picking this example because I think it’s the best I’ve seen - that's, of course, subjective and my opinion. (It also avoids discussion about whether out of the blue email announcements like this are good enough at all.)
However I’’m also picking this example because I think we can all agree that the content and tone demonstrated here is uncommon, and should be the norm, not the exception.
Patrick Collison at Stripe’s layoffs announcement is the one that for me came closest to demonstrating the sorts of indicators of genuine compassion I’m looking for, if you’re going to sway me to believe a company is people-first.
What I liked? A few things stand out…
- I’m all for bold transparency when it’s handled proactively and thoughtfully : people want to be treated like grown-ups
- According to Patrick, the changes to organisational design weren’t applied just to human beings, or evenly across the company : there seemingly wasn’t a lazy ‘every department needs to skim ‘x%’ by the end of the week’ request from the CFO, here. If there was, the push back was heard.
- Severance & benefits : because obviously that’s the right thing to do when you’re Stripe!
My favourite line in the whole thing though, is this:
“We overhired for the world we’re in…”
Stripe acknowledged, openly, that they had over-hired. They acknowledged openly the inherent risk in growth and in doing so finally I felt I’d read something that came close to a company taking some responsibility for what was happening. And taking responsibility is important. Because employing people is a responsibility.
It’s a responsibility that some businesses take more holistically seriously than others, and HR people have known that for a long time.
But the good news? (Because I think there is some positivity in the mix for People professionals)
It feels like in the HR sphere, something is different now. Something is changing. It feels like my peers are, after the relentless bleakness of the 2022/2023 handover, declaring that enough is enough. They are - dare I say it - starting to show signs of liberation, borne of the fact they’ve just got nothing left to lose.
I’ve seen exhausted HR functions plenty of times, carrying the People Debt businesses incur and doing so without much by way of internal sponsorship or investment. I’ve seen frustrated People leaders dealing with the pressure to keep an employer brand looking impeccable while the reality slowly shifts further and further from the image they’re being asked to paint.
But now, we’re angry.
In fact, we’re collectively totally pissed off.
HR are either the first being pushed out of the conversation, and/or out the door (with HR and DEI professionals disproportionately impacted by layoffs… hmmm…. convenient, hey?!) or they’re the unwitting figureheads of poorly handled change, being thrown between the business and its employees.
It’s not a hot take that some companies are really letting themselves down right now; it’s certainly much easier to talk about principles and values when times are good. My take is that when times get tough, and those principles and values swiftly vanish, the People function isn’t ok with bearing the brunt.
(And doesn’t Liz capture it so well in our first ‘word on the street’!)
Word on the street
Ginni’s favourite quote of the week from the HR Community
“People-people feel they’ve proven themselves. A million times over. Once battling for a seat at the table, now thoroughly expectant of that seat, a voice & a mandate. Rightly so. And as such, there’s an increasing intolerance for BS…with many very happily saying adios to businesses that either A; talk a good game but fall short of walking the walk, or B; are actively sabotaging years of good work with market-induced panic-responses, that see ‘people-first’ values flip-flop faster than you can say ‘collateral damage’”
Founder, The Talent Crossing Ltd.
No cookie cutters or silver bullets here, just things Ginni thinks are interesting and/or useful.
How do you feel when I say the words ‘pay transparency?’
I really enjoyed Adam Horne’s Medium article that nails it… this isn’t just about chucking a salary on a job ad!