Cruelty goes digital: Layoffs by email

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It was probably inevitable: As an ultimate reminder to workers that they are quickly disposable and easily disposed of, some companies are resorting to standardized emails to inform people that they no longer have a job.

The pandemic has taught many companies that their workers can be efficient and productive working from outside of the office, and a good number of employers have embraced remote work as a new norm. Recent rounds of layoffs in the high tech sector are now showing us what happens when remote work meets the human resources function.

Among the more well-publicized examples, we have Google (12,000 layoffs) using standardized emails to notify employees of terminations, as reported by Kristopher J. Brooks for CBS News (link here):

Jeremy Joslin spent two decades as a software engineer for Google only to be laid off last week along with thousands of his co-workers. The way the company notified him was “cold,” Joslin said.

…Joslin and other ex-employees at Google said they received notice of their dismissal via an email sent to their personal address, which struck them as insensitive. Receiving no advance warning of what would be their last day at the company added further insult to injury, they said.

And then there’s Amazon (18,000 layoffs) using the same approach, as reported by Ariel Zilber for the New York Post (link here):

Fired Amazon workers griped about the e-retail giant using email to inform them they were no longer needed by the company, according to a published report.

At least five employees who were laid off Wednesday said they received a cold-blooded missive from management….

“Unfortunately, your role has been eliminated,” wrote Beth Galetti, the top executive at Amazon’s human resources department, in one of the emails.

“You are no longer required to perform any work on Amazon’s behalf effective immediately.”

Furthermore, although it was “merely” part of an emailed announcement of planned layoffs and not an individual layoff notification, PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada deserves a negative shoutout for closing her rambling missive by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the challenges of leadership, as reported by Aimee Picchi for CBS News, link here:

I am reminded in moments like this, of something Martin Luther King said, that “the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy.”

From exit parades to inboxes

Back in 2011, I noted the popularity of an inhumane, in-person mode for conducting layoffs, known in some circles as the “exit parade.” Typically, the about-to-be-terminated employee is directed to report promptly to the human resources office, where they are told that this is their last day of work and provided with any necessary documents accompanying the separation. They may be allowed to return to their desk to gather their belongings, sometimes under the watchful escort of a uniformed security officer, in full view of their co-workers.

Quoting from one of my law review articles, I called this practice a degradation ceremony, appearing “similar in nature, though admittedly not in degree, to archaic military disciplinary proceedings where transgressors are marched past other soldiers under armed guard to face their punishment. Yet in the case of the dismissed employee, her sole ‘transgression’ may have been being on the payroll at a time when profits were not high enough.”

Well, at least in terms of the personal touch, the exit parade may seem like a warm and fuzzy approach to terminations compared to how some managers and executives are hiding behind their screens to inform workers that they are no longer needed.

Evading responsibility, accountability, and, well, humanity

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times critical of these digital termination notices (link here), journalist Elizabeth Spiers wrote:

As someone who’s managed people in newsrooms and digital start-ups and has hired and fired people in various capacities for the past 21 years, I think this approach is not just cruel but unnecessary. It’s reasonable to terminate access to company systems, but delivering the news with no personal human contact serves only one purpose: letting managers off the hook. It ensures they will not have to face the shock and devastation that people feel when they lose their livelihoods. It also ensures the managers won’t have to weather any direct criticism about the poor leadership that brought everyone to that point.

Again: “not just cruel but unnecessary.” Given a second byte of the apple, so to speak, it appears that certain denizens of corporate America have continued to deliver hard news in an impersonal and cold way, only this time, it’s as easy as hitting the return key.

3 responses

  1. Shocking view to the new realities of life… new being the last 10-15 years people have gotten far, far away from personal responsibility to dismissing people in work and in personal aspects of life without what we had become accustomed to in treating others with dignity and respect. Times are changing and one would hope new alternatives will form to dealing with these cold hearted bots posing as human beings (my wounds and predispositions leaking out clearly here).

  2. David,

    Yes, and the government is no different. I took off work on 8/17/2022 due to severe health issues per my doctor caused by the unrelenting workplace, bullying, mobbing, and toxic work environment I have endured for the last almost five years. I have endured by my coworkers, all levels of management, union, even HR, and the Governor of IL did nothing to stop it and this has happened numerous times before!! Then they denied my worker’s compensation, and short and long-term disability, and even tried to keep me from getting my own money out of my 457 plan so I could pay my bills that they did not even contribute to! Then they stopped my medical and dental coverage while at the same time insisting I provide them with a doctor’s statement monthly while off in order to extend my unpaid FMLA leave. They took me out of the system, so my pension credits would stop, if they had allowed me the worker’s comp or disability (part of my so-called employed benefits, which is a lie) I would have had a weekly paycheck near what mine is while working, and my benefits and pension credits would have continued until I returned to work or retired and I am a 58-year-old twice widowed mother so they know I desperately need my pension as I have no savings, no investments, no credit cards and cannot get a credit card or loan due to a low credit score because my bills are behind now. I also have $57K in student loans I am trying to get paid off through the PSLF program.

    I am 18 months from being vested in my pension too, so now they have stopped the time and because I had to take off in August, that caused me to now be four months shorter on my pension credits, so I now need 22 months. And while all of this has been done to me I have talked to over 80 lawyers and not one will help me, they note in their response they are not saying I do not have a case, but only that they cannot or will not help me, but do not say why then say there are time limits so I need to hurry and find someone if I am going to sue. This only makes me feel even more helpless as I already know this and no one will help me!!! I have no desire at all to return to work at the State of IL IDES in Effingham or Mt Vernon, IL either one, both are full of corruption and they treat me like dirt!! The union does absolutely nothing, in fact, they are nice to them and have also bullied me at times and they refuse to answer my questions by email, so obvious they too are corrupt!! All who have money and power are in cahoots, that is the bottom line and they intend to keep all they have and make sure the rest have nothing.

    I do know one thing for sure, God sees all and all of these people will face his wrath for all they have said and done to others I know I will not have to ever see them again when I get to Heaven because evil people do not go there. I am just as angry about the IT industry layoffs, as my son works in that industry. Their jobs are so stressful anyway and they are really hard on them, in fact, my son said so many of his friends were in their 20s and were either having heart attacks or some committing suicide. Yet the lazy and jealous haters I work with at the state were constantly badmouthing them because they were jealous of them, they have five times as much money, property, benefits, pension, and freebies through the state of these hardworking IT people, yet want all to be taken from them due to their envy and jealousy, I hate people like that, they are so SELFISH!! I hope they themselves lose everything and I am sure God will make that happen. They work for nothing, they sit and eat and gossip all day long every day of the week. But as I said, God sees all and he WILL serve justice and these people will fall in their own folly. He gives us all free will, and sits back and allows people to choose him or evil. They are the ones who actually put themselves in Hell based on how they treat others in this world.

    I am three car payments behind about $2300, $1150 behind in rent, car insurance is past due for $157, all of the rest I can deal with at the moment thanks to state welfare programs, but if I do not come up with the money to pay these, will not be able to drive anywhere or go back to work as my job is two hours a day round trip commute. My doctor requested I be transferred to another office or agency or allowed to work from home under a different manager. The State refuses to do anything, they have not reprimanded anyone. I filed an ethics complaint and sent them the daily notes I have taken of all that went on over the last almost five years, they looked at it for a few days, then decided they would forward it to the very managers who have allowed and encouraged it and done nothing to stop for the last almost five years and thanked me for sharing it with them but said they feel it is more appropriate for the managers to deal with it. They think what they are doing is funny the girls around me at work were saying “I hope she doesn’t kill herself” and I was not sure why they were saying that then all of this. They are all nuts, evil in the extreme, narcissists, and psychopaths, our government is full of them. Funny thing as my professor in college warned us years ago (2007) this would be the case, that our government would be full of these types.

    At that time I had no intentions or thoughts of ever working for the government and did not have a clue what a psychopath was like. He was right. I would not give these worthless idiots the satisfaction of committing suicide. I would rather get a much better job, preferably one over them at a higher level making a ton more money than they are, and finish out my career to age 70 years as I planned, so that is why I am applying for positions further up the chain and all over the place in the government. I don’t know if we will ever get the laws passed because of so many fighting against us and it. They need someone to beat up emotionally in order to survive, so if we take that away what will they do? They would all be in jail!!!

    JoAnna Toth

  3. Increased adjunctification and disposability of the general workforce comes to mind — a tech facilitated fungus, although absence email notification characterizes adjunct disposal by non-rehiring. Any impending vestment in retirement funding or other benefits not be coincidental.

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