“How would I feel if I woke up tomorrow and this made the front page news?”
That’s the question Melanie Naranjo, vp of people at compliance training company Ethena, says employers should ask themselves when deciding on how to communicate messages to their employees. “If the answer is bad, then you need to go back and rethink it,” said Naranjo.
It seems like a hypothetical question, but the reality is that employees are taking to social media to share their experiences around being laid off, which might be today’s version of being on the front page news. Last week former Cloudflare employee Brittany Pietsch took to TikTok to post a nearly 10-minute-long video of her being laid off. The video went viral on the app because of how she repeatedly asked the two execs who were informing her that she was being let go, to justify why she was part of the layoffs.
She wasn’t alone: Chloe Shih, a content creator for the social platform Discord, posted a video of her own layoff on Jan. 14., which also gained traction online. Internal rumors directly before the calls gave both employees a heads-up about what was coming.
It’s hard to know for sure if we will see more employees follow suit and prop their phones up to record when they think they are about to be laid off, but either way, it’s something that experts say employers should understand is a possibility.
“All staff emails make their way to trade publications, Slack messages get shared, every company communications need to be ready for the public to find out about it,” said Jack Appleby, consultant and creator of Future Social – a weekly newsletter about social media strategy, content and creators.
But when this employee officially no longer works at the company, they might feel like they have nothing to lose when they post details about how exactly the layoff happened.
“When you’re having a termination conversation, act accordingly in terms of being professional and follow the law,” said Tracey Diamond, labor and employment partner at national law firm Troutman Pepper. “Be empathetic but neutral to the employee situation because it’s tough getting fired.”
That’s why Diamond says whoever is conducting the termination should know all of the best practices, especially when it is such a difficult conversation to have and it requires a certain level of empathy and understanding. Diamond admits though that those stakes are raised if the call is being recorded. “The stakes are higher because the company’s reputation is at stake if a recording gets leaked out into the public discourse for everybody to see. It reflects on the company in one way or another.”
So should a company just try to stop employees from sharing internal communications in the first place? That would be a hard no, stressed Naranjo. Controlling communication is impossible and won’t help the employer.
“In HR, there is a default instinct to try and control the narrative,” said Naranjo. “It’s understandable to try to minimize risk, but I think HR teams are probably panicked a little bit when they see something like this happen, especially if it catches them by surprise.”
Meanwhile, the employee might want to record a call where they are being terminated if they really believe they’ve been treated unfairly and are potentially preparing a lawsuit.
When it comes to actually posting it though, that’s a different debate. While a layoff video might go viral, folks wonder if it’s worth the 15 minutes of fame in the long run. After all, that person will need to find a new job and it may not help them secure a good role if that video is part of their digital footprint.
“When you’re looking for a job, you’re marketing yourself,” said Marc Cenedella, CEO at career site Ladders. “You never want to show people choosing not to use your product … in this case, your product is your work and labor.”
He says that unless the company is hiring you for your ability to make viral videos, it’s not helpful to landing your next job. And Appleby says that he can’t in good faith encourage someone to post a video of them being laid off. He notices that it’s something that younger professionals, Gen Zers, are leaning into specifically.
“They’re comfortable making a type of content that others aren’t super comfortable with,” said Appleby. “It’s a vlog style of ‘here’s what happened to me’ and they feel comfortable sharing everything on the internet.”
His main concern is that they might not be attracting the right type of attention. At the same time, he recalls when he posted something on Twitter about being laid off during the peak days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and he got a job directly from that tweet. Technically, he was making content around his own layoff, but not in the same way this new generation has approached it.
“What is the goal of sharing the content?” said Appleby. “I think for a professional who is also a content creator, that person might be thinking about views more than their next professional ambition.”
On the flip side, others might argue that someone who takes to social media and promotes transparency around terminations is the kind of employee they want to hire. Or, that person who posted the video might want to leave the corporate world entirely, which means it won’t matter that they posted a video like this.
At the very least, what it does do, is create a sense of community for those who have experienced layoffs. “I think that being laid off is such a lonely, alienating feeling and I actually really like that this maybe makes people feel less alone,” said Naranjo.
And she argues too that this transparency can even help employers as these videos can highlight valuable information for HR departments, including reactions you wouldn’t otherwise get to see about how your communication landed and initial thoughts that went through the employees’ minds.
“Any time people are more transparent, it can feel scary because it’s change,” said Naranjo. “But over time, it actually leads to positive change. If you think about salary transparency, it was very scary to employers, but it also helped them because they better understood what other people were paying and it was information they didn’t have before. In this example, it’s ‘oh, this is how companies are doing layoffs, this is how employees are reacting, this is where they went wrong or where they did really well.”