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Better layoffs? Advice from tech pros who’ve been there

Pittsburgh technologists Yvette Menase and Gary Hlusko advise companies to lead with empathy by giving notice and communicating clearly if layoffs must happen. And for affected employees: Find your support networks.

Tech layoffs are still happening. (Pexels/Anna Shvets)
While tech is hailed for offering more security than the average sector, 2023 has reminded us that no field is layoff-proof.

From Meta to Twitter to Pittsburgh’s own RoadRunner Recycling and IAM Robotics, hundreds of thousands of tech employees have experienced the worst of what the pandemic-influenced economy has to offer in the past year alone, according to a count by layoffs tracker Layoffs.fyi.

And because the holidays coincide with those close of the fiscal year for many companies, the most wonderful time of the year is also a time when many employees receive the news they’re being let go.

But is there a way to make the process of losing one’s job less painful? While they both acknowledge that there’s no enjoyable way to be laid off, Pittsburgh technologists Yvette Menase and Gary Hlusko, both laid off from a podcast hosting platform company in October 2023, told Technical.ly that they think if layoffs are necessary, there are ways employers can do it to minimize the pain felt by those affected.

Clear communication goes a long way

Having previously worked on political campaigns with clear end dates, Hlusko, now an app developer, told Technical.ly he’s no stranger to being laid off — but before, he’d always had an understanding of why.

“The other times made more sense where the CEO was like, ‘Hey, we’re obviously not making as much money. It’s a pandemic, sorry, we have to let you go,’” Hlusko said. This time around, the reasoning was less clear — and he found the way the news was handled “tone-deaf,” partly because the layoffs were announced in a setting that included a newly hired executive.

When delivering this kind of news, it’s important for higher-ups to consider the optics, and opt for a one-on-one conversation to explain the decision, he said.

(Courtesy Gary Hlusko)

Hlusko also found it disheartening that because some impacted teammates were on vacation when the layoffs were announced, it fell to him to break the news to some people. These communication issues, combined with what he felt was minimal severance pay, he said, seemed an unkind way to treat employees who’d been with the company for years.

“I think that’s pretty shitty to do, to be honest,” Hlusko said, “because these people, it’s been their only job here for like two decades, and the job process of 20 years ago is completely different from today.”

Menase echoed her former coworker’s concerns about communication: “We weren’t given any notice about the layoff,” she said.

Time to finish projects and tie up loose ends could help bring a sense of closure, she noted, as well as provide employees with time to search for other employment. (There are even federal regulations to ensure large companies provide this kind of advance warning.)

Timing is critical when you’re out of work

In the aftermath of layoffs, Hlusko said, it would be helpful if companies immediately honored payout bonuses. Upon receiving the news of his own layoff in October, Hlusko said he was told he wouldn’t receive his bonus until March 2024. He didn’t receive his COBRA packet, which enables former employees to temporarily keep their health insurance, until December. Luckily, it didn’t put him in too much of a bind, but for some, this gap in health coverage could present real danger.

Since her layoff, Menase’s job search has been difficult — something she attributes to the reality that a lot of people are job hunting at the moment, due to a swell of Big Tech layoffs.

“I’m almost trying to tell myself like, it’ll get better next year,” she said, “but I’m frustrated with the process. I really hope that things turn around in the next couple of weeks.”

According to Technical.ly’s Tech Economy Dashboard, which features proprietary data sourced by Lightcast, the number of local tech job postings has halved since this time last year. That goes for Pittsburgh and similar tech markets, such as Philadelphia.

Advice for layoff recovery

Because filling out hundreds of applications can be so emotionally draining, particularly at this time of year, Menase recommends that recently laid off employees make the most of their professional and personal support networks. This way, they can commiserate with people having similar experiences, and ideally find other leads on employment opportunities.

(Courtesy Yvette Menase)

“Our [group] chat kind of kept us all motivated,” Menase said. She also recommended seeking some alternate activities to help ease the emotional turmoil: “I’ve been laser focused on the job search, but I know that I need to find a hobby or something to do.”

Technical.ly has heard this from other previously laid-off technologists, too: One Philly-based engineering manager told us in May that he self-organized a new Slack for alumni of his former employer. The “cohort” spent time on Zoom calls processing and connecting each other with people who may be helpful in a job hunt.

Menase also feels it’s important for prospective employers to not hold layoffs against job applicants, as these kinds of decisions usually aren’t performance related.

“My team, we got a lot done, we were on track for some really huge projects,” Menase said. “We were all pretty accomplished.”

For tech workers looking for jobs, Hlusko suggested they make the most of resources available to them, such as applying for unemployment benefits and sorting out their healthcare as soon as possible. He agreed that self care matters, as it can be a draining process.

“Make sure you still are taking care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually [because] it’s a depressing time for everyone,” Hlusko said. “Make sure you’re eating right, getting whatever physical exercise you want or need, to try and make sure that you’re balancing your time so that you’re spending time on yourself.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Series: Leadership Development Month 2023
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