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How layoffs shed their taboo

How layoffs shed their taboo

Many workers feel ashamed or devastated when losing a job – so why are more shouting the news from the mountaintops?

In March 2020, after the novel coronavirus plunged the global economy into freefall, Maddy Cross was laid off from her job at a US-based advertising and marketing agency. "It felt shameful – 'oh my gosh, so embarrassing'," says Cross, who lives in Colorado. Despite feeling like she was airing "a dirty secret", she shared the news on LinkedIn, and was encouraged by the words of support in the comments she had received.

Eventually, she secured a new job. But in early August 2022, Cross found herself in a familiar situation: part of layoffs in a large corporate downsizing at a major tech firm.

Despite again fighting feelings of shame, Cross reminded herself that "every good job I've had has come from my community". So, she shelved her feelings of self-consciousness and took to LinkedIn, writing another public post alerting her network that she and colleagues were part of a mass redundancy, and that she was looking for a new position. But the reaction this time was bigger.

At first, she didn't think much of the post: "I put the phone down, I went and had a drink with a friend, didn't really pay much attention to it. And then when I was making dinner, I realised it had 100,000 views." Hundreds of people, friends and strangers alike, had commented with reactions of support and job leads. "I've had 500 people request to connect with me, all in the span of 24 hours," she says. "Waking up to several hundred LinkedIn notifications was a very odd sensation, but I'm hoping it can provide some useful connections."

Stories of workers posting about their job situations and actively seeking connections for new opportunities are becoming increasingly common, especially in the past several months. Right now, the economy is in in flux: the job market in countries like the US remains tight and still favours workers, but hundreds of firms are also laying off employees; a possible recession looms, and many companies over-hired last year when the economy was stronger.

For the thousands of workers affected by these layoffs, instead of feeling humiliated and contacting head-hunters from the shadows, more are being open about their experiences on public forums like Twitter or LinkedIn. And as layoffs continue, these posts may continue to rise, turning a once-taboo topic into an opportunity for positivity, growth and even new jobs.

US worker Maddy Cross was laid off earlier this month, and received 100,000 views of her LinkedIn post about her layoff


‘I’m not ashamed of what happened’


Losing a job is devastating for most people, and layoffs are still a gruelling ordeal, no matter how warm a reception they may get on social media.

"It feels like being thrown away – discarded and completely vulnerable," says Patricia Graves, knowledge advisor at US-based Society for Human Resource Management (Shrm). "Workers may undoubtedly think that being laid off reflects poorly on them, like they were the ones seen as expendable."

However, that thought process may be evolving. Kirk Snyder, professor of clinical business communication at Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says that the switch to building and maintaining social connection online during the pandemic made people more comfortable about sharing their experiences online – including their layoffs and job searches. "It's about letting your network know you are seeking employment. If no one knows you are looking for a new job, no one can help you."

After all, so many people have had to look for new work in lockdown or isolation during the pandemic; as a result, talking about job loss online to a wider community has become more normalised and visible. In 2020, for example, LinkedIn even added the "#OpenToWork frame members can add to their profile picture, to signal they’re actively seeking opportunities.

"I'm not ashamed of what happened – it's happening to thousands of people every day," says Joe Fiaoni, a US-based sales recruiter, who was laid off from a software-development company in August. He almost immediately went public with the news on a LinkedIn post, broadcasting that he was actively looking for a new position.

Indeed, the biggest reason workers are going public with their layoff news might be the most obvious: because it could lead to a new job. Like Cross, Fiaoni had also been laid off previously at the start of the pandemic – and he shared the news on LinkedIn then, too. He says the first time around, his post led to securing a contract job that got him back on his feet. But he says he's gotten an even bigger response this time.

Waking up to several hundred LinkedIn notifications was a very odd sensation, but I'm hoping it can provide some useful connections – Maddy Cross


"I've already had six interviews," says Fiaoni, and has gotten words of encouragement or offers to forward along his CV from sources as varied as "people who I've known for 15-plus years to someone who I didn't know existed until they saw my post."

'Hire my friends'


A job loss has traditionally been an isolating experience, especially when kept quiet. But as taboos shed, and workers become more comfortable with coming forward, another silver lining is emerging: former employees are finding much-needed community during a tough transitional period.

"In the world of remote work and corporate layoffs, everything seems so cold," says Cross. But she says people responding to her post "has just been so incredible, and a real point of positivity".

That good feeling stems from the engagement that pops up around social media posts like these. Even people who don’t have a job or connection to offer still signal boost by "commenting for reach", just to make the public post more likely to be viewed by others. And employees – both those who’ve survived layoffs and haven’t – also work to help others get jobs, not just themselves: Cross, for example, hashtagged her viral post with #HireMyFriends and shouted out former colleagues in the thread, as she was let go alongside many others on her team. Other workers take to Twitter threads to tag colleagues who were let go, singing their praises to help them find new employment.

"Who knows if the person from Singapore who commented on my post could provide a job for my friend in Cleveland? That's possible now," says Cross.

LinkedIn and Twitter are common forums for people to announce their layoffs


Hayden Woodley, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Ivey Business School, Western University, Canada, also believes this community has been crucial. "We were not able to stand within six feet of strangers, but being able to communicate with someone through social media, sometimes you feel closer."

Shrm’s Graves says laid-off workers sharing the news publicly and connecting with others online in this way has become "part of the healing process. Speaking it to others helps workers move past the negative feelings that a layoff can trigger in us, and brings recovery from the stigma that may be attached to the layoff".

She adds that from a recruiting perspective, "posting information about being laid off on LinkedIn can help recruiters find you quickly to fill open positions", and that workers going public with the news feels "less taboo now", especially in the current climate. "With high job openings and turnover,” she says, “more opportunities are available in today’s market."

‘A very strategic move’


Regardless of what happens with the labour market going forward, layoffs will always be part of being a professional. But some experts believe the way workers deal with this unhappy news may have changed permanently. And that, they think, will be for the better.

"I think if you're laid off and you let people know in a well-written, professional post, it can be a very strategic move to communicate that you have a lot to offer, and that you're looking at this as an 'onward and upward' opportunity," says Snyder. (He does caution that "if it's too much of a 'poor me' [post], that might work against you", however.)

Still, being so vulnerable in front of so many people about something so personal and potentially traumatic can be anxiety inducing; it's easy for workers to attach their identities to their careers and feel devastated and less-than if they get laid off. Yet those who’ve been through the process say being honest about your story can be worth it.

"I am a person who has worked really hard to not define my self-worth around my job, and I think that helps when it comes to sharing things about layoffs," says Cross. "People are out here to help people."

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