The internet has blown up with posts about Musk and Zuckerberg and the tremendous amounts of layoffs that have been occurring within their organizations, most recently with Meta. I was reading a post from a communications manager at Meta who was one of the 11,000 people laid off this week, and as she explained her experience, it brought me back to all of those traumatic feelings I felt when I was laid off years ago. It’s gut-wrenching. This woman is currently on maternity leave until February, and as she told her story of where she was as it all unfolded, nursing her baby and just sitting there in the anticipation of expecting that layoff email, I just kept remembering the emotions of denial whilst constantly having your mind wrapped around this anxiousness that you may be next on the chopping block. She said she kept checking her email, and then came the boss’s text telling her they had been laid off. Then, nearly right after, she received that dreaded email.

Addressing Trauma Left Behind

First and foremost, I want to express from an organizational standpoint that sometimes layoffs are necessary. In the bigger picture, reorganization and employee cuts have to happen. That’s a really hard concept to wrap your head around as an affected employee, but it’s the cold, hard truth. But that doesn’t mean that everything surrounding the experience has to be negative, and if I’m honest, developing policies for sudden layoffs and furloughing is a topic that merits more attention. Leaders who demonstrate open communication while listening and providing patience, clarity, and understanding can go a long way in changing a negative perspective of these changes into a dignified one. That holistic understanding is the concept that everything that goes on in the workplace is intimately interconnected and affects each of your people as a whole. This doesn’t mean that even as a leader of an organization, you’ll have all the answers, but taking the time to address everyone, especially those affected individually, when those answers become available to you will go a long way.

Although Meta laid off 11,000 people, the remaining thousands will still struggle with the emotional guilt of not only still being employed with the company but losing coworkers, friends, and for a lot of us – a piece of family. If your organization does not support your employees’ emotions, they are left alone to deal with these thoughts. Layoffs can bring about a roller coaster of emotions, and as an organizational leader, delivering the news with transparency and kindness will alleviate the difficulties surrounding these changes. All leaders dealing with layoffs should keep this in mind – specially when there are 11,000 people being affected.  

The Big Impact

It’s no secret that a huge chunk of your life is spent with those you work with. Regardless of being remote or in person, it’s inevitable that close relationships will form from these day-in and day-out interactions. I tell the full story of my layoff experience in a previous blog, but I want to shed light on the emotional aspect of it. When layoffs went on in my company years ago, I had this gut feeling I would be affected, but another part of me thought maybe I would be lucky enough to dodge the bullet. That’s the denial I was talking about earlier, as you go through these emotional stages.

Layoffs Can Be Done with Dignity

The trauma for people left behind, the guilt, sadness, and fear…mimics PTSD when relating to something so big like this. Many employees struggle with layoffs out of fear of the unknown. How will they pay their bills and continue taking care of their families? Had my organization not shown compassion throughout the transition I went through, I would have felt stuck and full of doubt, too. Layoffs affect all employees, not just those who have to leave. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta (Facebook), has made efforts to ensure those being laid off have some of their benefits like 16 weeks of base pay and two additional weeks for every year worked. The company will also cover their health-care costs for six months. Back when this happened to me, my workplace also ensured that I walked out the door with my dignity intact by providing health insurance and base pay for a few months. It really makes a world of a difference in these situations. Servant leadership plays a huge role in changing the stigma surrounding layoffs. If organizational leaders focus more on the well-being of their people, they will be the leaders who will truly make an impact.

I hope that both Musk and Zuckerberg take these finer points into consideration with any future moves they might make.