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As stigma lifts around layoffs, fewer people view them as a secret “mark of shame”

Janet Nguyen Dec 13, 2022
Intel is reportedly planning to lay off thousands of workers. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As stigma lifts around layoffs, fewer people view them as a secret “mark of shame”

Janet Nguyen Dec 13, 2022
Intel is reportedly planning to lay off thousands of workers. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bay Area resident Amanda Gawin, who’s been an employee at Intel for about eight years, has been through the dot-com bubble burst, the Great Recession, and now the recent wave of mass layoffs affecting the tech industry. 

Intel, which is reportedly planning to lay off thousands of workers, has a redeployment program for workers like Gawin, giving them time to find a new job at the company, otherwise they’ll let them go. Gawin was given two months in the redeployment program after finding out her position would be eliminated in early November.

But there’s something different Gawin has noticed about the way some of her colleagues in the tech industry are talking about this round of layoffs. They’re being open about it. Posting about it on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Mentioning that they’re available for new opportunities. 

“These people are not afraid of any sort of stigma or being treated like pariahs,” she said.

Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, said she thinks the pandemic was a turning point for how people perceive layoffs. By April 2020, 22 million people in the U.S. had lost their jobs. 

“It was very obvious to everyone that being laid off was not a mark of shame, and that you’re laid off because the business’ doors were closed, and there was nothing they could do,” she said. 

Gawin is still a bit hesitant about posting her circumstances on social media, but she’s taken small steps. When talking about Intel, employees might write #IAmIntel.

She’s used that as an opportunity to give a hint about her own circumstances by using the hashtag #IAmIntelRedeployment. 

Over the past couple of months, several tech companies have announced they’re cutting a significant portion of their workforce. After Elon Musk assumed the role of Twitter CEO, he swiftly laid off half of its employees, while Meta and Lyft each announced they would lay off 13% of their respective workforces. 

Back in 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, CNN looked at the stigma associated with getting laid off, finding that some companies didn’t want to hire people who didn’t currently have a job. Recruiters told CNN that they viewed the unemployed as “weak performers or fickle workers,” worried about their skills being “rusty,” or believed that the unemployed would take jobs “out of desperation” and leave once a better opportunity arose. 

Gawin said during the Great Recession, she doesn’t recall people on social media saying: “Hey, I’m unemployed; hire me.” Instead, she said, they would re-post stories on tips looking for a job or talking around the issue.

Gawin, who was laid off during this period, thought you were supposed to be stoic in the face of a layoff, refraining from revealing this information about yourself to others. 

Now, she’s happy that more people are willing to talk about it. After she found out the news that her position at Intel was being eliminated, she wanted to be the one to tell her team and help normalize the circumstances she and other Intel employees are facing.

“So when I told everybody, I said, ‘Look, I’m an open book. Ask me any questions you want about what’s happening and how it happened,’” Gawin said.  

Gawin wasn’t expecting more discussion, but soon she got questions ranging from when she found out the news to how much time she had with the company to what was included in her severance package.

“I think part of the collecting of all those details and information helps put them at ease,” she said. 

With the plethora of social media platforms that now exist, people now have more of an opportunity to talk about their experiences with getting laid off, said Paul McDonald, the senior executive director for global talent solutions firm Robert Half.

He said he thinks companies are understanding in our current economic climate, where mass layoffs have occurred at several companies. Beyond the tech industry, media and entertainment companies such as Buzzfeed, the Washington Post, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount Global and the Walt Disney Company have also announced cuts.

“If there’s been a broad layoff at the organization, there’s no negative attachment to that by future employers,” McDonald said. 

But it can be viewed negatively if you speak poorly about your employer, supervisor or your experience, McDonald added. 

“You just have to be prepared to answer truthfully, keep it positive, and focus on what contributions you made to the organization that laid you off,” he said. 

Bob See, vice president and head of talent acquisition at ZipRecruiter, said that in his experience, hiring managers and recruiters may have different views about layoffs depending on their background. 

“If they came from a company that — when there was a layoff — let go of their weakest performers, then they think of people getting laid off as being weak performers,” See said. “If they came up from a company that performance was not the primary factor in terms of a layoff, then they walk into it with a totally different perspective where there is no stigma.”

In this particular market, he said he thinks the stigma surrounding getting laid off is going away, because there are so many different reasons behind these layoffs. 

“It might be that entire product lines are being discontinued where teams are being eliminated. It might be that, ‘Hey, we’re letting go of remote employees first and keeping the people who can work in the office,’” See said. “There are a dozen different factors.”

See said recruiters and hiring managers “are doing an injustice to their own hiring efforts” if they make blanket assumptions about people who were laid off. 

In recent years, he’s also noticed candidates being open about their willingness to discuss getting laid off, and even mentioning it on their resumes. 

“Prior to three years ago, I think people kind of hid it or dodged around it,” he said.

Pollak said when some people post about their experiences on platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn, their coworkers have come forward to discuss that person’s strengths and how much they loved working with them. 

“I think that really helps undo the stigma,” Pollak said. “There’s kind of a camaraderie and collegiality that emerges in those moments with people in the company connecting with each other, helping them find new opportunities and letting them know about companies they discovered that are still hiring.” 

That’s precisely why Gawin thinks discussions about layoffs should be destigmatized: so we can help each other.  

“It doesn’t do anybody any good to feel bad,” she said.

Many of the jobs we get are from networking, she said, so of course you have to talk to other people. 

“Why hide it?” she said.

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