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Naked Villainy: Layoffs and Lies

"And thus I clothe my naked villainy, with odd old ends stol'n out of holy writ; and seem a saint, when most I play the devil."

- William Shakespeare, Richard III

Layoffs. Reduction in force. Restructuring. Reorganization. All these labels essentially result in disruption- disruption to customers, disruption to remaining employees, and devastating disruption to those employees suddenly left in solitary confinement and financial distress.

According to several layoff trackers, 168,243 workers have lost employment due to layoffs so far (as of May 12, 2023) this year. Tech has been hit particularly hard, laying off more employees in the first two quarters (so far) than in all of 2022. It seems no industry titan has gone unscathed, with huge layoffs at Meta, Amazon, Google, Zoom and so many more. Investment dollars have dried up, fueled by layoffs at Goldman Sachs and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), among others.

The layoffs we see today are the result of an appalling lack of strategy and discipline, sprinkled with greed and a heaping dose of absolute bullshit on the side.

If it all seems like everything fell apart at once, well, it's because that is exactly what happened. The hiring spree in tech, for example, accommodated the spike in remote work and online shopping during the pandemic, was no longer needed once the pandemic passed. Start ups, drunk on top-line revenues at dizzying heights, sobered up to a complete evaporation of investor interest, as they realized that growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Unexpected. Unplanned. Unprecedented. Words that are used to justify the necessary reductions, as if the circumstances of unfortunate events that require these actions came at them like a tidal wave, without warning, catching them unaware, resulting in the need to lighten their total load to survive.

The pandemic was unexpected, unplanned and unprecedented, causing an abrupt shift in lifestyles and spending habits. Travel, hospitality and entertainment venues suffered an immediate, dire impact. No one had "global pandemic" on their list of foreseeable risks. The layoffs we see today are the result of an appalling lack of strategy and discipline, sprinkled with greed and a heaping dose of absolute bullshit on the side.

Toxic companies expect you to be all-in until they are all done with you

Last week, we witnessed a company lose over 30% of its workforce in a "restructuring." Those affected ranged from front-line specialists to newly-hired business unit presidents. The antiseptic conversations covered the commonly accepted assurances- this was necessary (we wish it wasn't), unforeseen (we had to react!) and unavoidable (we had no choice). Your selection had nothing to do with performance. Heck- it was practically random. Uh-huh.

Later, the remaining employees, in a state of shock themselves at the carnage, spinning from the loss of teammates and unsure of their own future, are informed that there are holes to fill, and everyone will need to step up to fill them. Now is your chance to be a leader! Woot! And wait- all the people that were let go were poor performers! Such waste, dragging us down. And guess what? We have to abort the "strategy" we just communicated what, last quarter? Was it just 1Q? Seemed longer ago. Anyway, here is the new "strategy". Cool? Cool.

We don't know what is worse- the perversion of corporate culture or the blatant lies. It makes an interesting juxtaposition- the impacted realizing in one call that their employment (and their belief) is over, while those directly responsible comfort themselves over their gross mismanagement by blaming the market, the lack of investor dollars, and even those impacted by the layoffs for these unfortunate, unexpected but necessary events.

Stevie Wonder could have seen this coming. Had the employer been honest and transparent, the employees could have seen it coming, too. Had this employer focused on a strategy and solutions versus the appearance of success to gain capital, these actions may have never been necessary. One could argue that no one has a crystal ball. One could cheer these actions as solid management practice- remaining afloat to fight another day. Human nature assumes the lack of malignancy, choosing to look for a more benign cause behind the upheaval, a justification in lieu of a condemnation. As humans, we attribute our own morals and ethics upon a situation, assuming that the talking heads informing us of our survival from this latest massacre are making these horrible decisions in our own interests. Our good nature betrays our common sense.

A sheep spared from slaughter is still a sheep awaiting slaughter.

What justification explains shareholder returns while fellow taxpayers will pony up unemployment insurance (and potentially healthcare and welfare payments)? What soothes your soul as your workload is doubled- or tripled- as you struggle to implement yet another Hail Mary pass at profitability? How do you feel about C-suite bonuses in the tens- or even hundreds- of thousands of dollars during an economic downturn? Why do you think investors are not providing more capital to the business? When you are told to ignore the rumors, what "truth" do you believe? Layoffs are a breach of trust. The stories told to survivors right now will be told about you to the survivors of the next round. Toxic companies expect you to be all-in until they are all done with you; none of the lies are casually shared. Survivors owe it to themselves to start questioning and start looking elsewhere.

Once you see the naked villainy for what it is, clothed in the stolen writs of your labor, disguising the stains of those sacrificed for the appalling failure of its leadership, you will find yourself either angry at the injustice of it all, or coddled in the respite of temporary shelter. If the latter, understand temporary is a status, not a timeframe. Few are blessed with the vision to see what is coming; fewer still have courage to act prior to the actions taken upon them. A sheep spared from slaughter is still a sheep awaiting slaughter.

If you are one of the victims of layoffs, hold your head high. You are not a failure. You will no longer trade your time and talent to wrecked enterprises dancing in a delusional dimension of success. Reach out to each other. Support one another. Seek out the culture you desire and not just the position. Trust yourself.

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