(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series about layoffs in the tech industry, part of Dispatches’ Tech Tuesdays series. You can read Pt. 2 here. We cover the startup and tech scenes because so many of our highly skilled internationals are engineers and developers.)
The evening of November 30, 2022, wasn’t anything special. Until it was.
I was reading something on my computer, trying to close at least some of the 100 tabs I had opened, and didn’t get around to reading, when I had a video call from my sister.
“I’ve just been fired”, she said.
“You’re kidding right?” I said automatically. Then I saw that she was crying.
“I just got this email.”
“Hold it,” I said. “If you’ve had it, there’s no way I didn’t.”
We were working for the same company and on the same project.
And sure enough, the infamous email was there in my inbox.
Later today, our CEO will announce some major changes to our business. Unfortunately, these include a large number of reductions in our employee headcount globally.
I am sorry that these reductions impact the function you work in Germany, which means your role is being eliminated. We will schedule a meeting with you to go through the impact on your function, and the transition support available to you, early next week. In the meantime, details of the transition support we will make available to you are included in the settlement agreement attached. Please return the signed agreement to [email protected] by 7 December 2022.
And just like that, I was out of a job.
Right at the Advent, no less. Talk about merry Christmas.
Everyone heard of the five stages of grief, right? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I laughed. It was so funny that I looked to find this email, and here it was, staring me in the face. It was like a “hold my beer” moment.
I guess this is what denial sometimes looks like.
A couple of hours ago, we were just discussing on Slack whether we should do a Secret Santa within our team. I went on that channel and wrote something like this:
“Hey folks, I guess I can’t take part in Secret Santa anymore. I’ve just been fired.”
Then I started composing a proper farewell message to the team. But even as I was typing it in Slack, I was suddenly logged out and couldn’t get back in anymore.
My Slack permissions were already being revoked.
I went to re-read “The Email” and saw that I would only have access to the corporate email and the application where we had our payslips, and only for 24 hours, starting from the moment they sent the emails, it would seem. Everything else was already being revoked. So I retyped my farewell message into an email and sent it. Then I told my husband what happened, and he brought me a glass of wine.
“Don’t cry,” he said, though I wasn’t crying. “All will be well.”
And so, I logged into LinkedIn and set the “Open For Work” status on my profile. At the same time, I sent a message to a WhatsApp chat where a lot of my co-workers from my previous job were gathering.
In less than 24 hours, my LinkedIn inbox exploded. Also, six of my previous colleagues referred me to their current companies.
I took two days to sift through and answer recruiting in-mail and set up initial interviews. Next Monday, I was already speaking to HR people.
I was going through the motions as if I have moved on, but it wasn’t acceptance … far from it
This whole process when we were just discarded as no longer useful pieces of machinery. It’s like going through a breakup of a relationship. People always say that jobs aren’t personal, but they are. It’s where we spend the best part of the day; usually, more time than we’re able to give to our partners or children. It’s where we build relationships that, too, feel personal. When the breakup is initiated by the other side, one feels it deeply.
One feels … disposable.
Like a tissue that’s been dropped into a waste bin.
“Can they really do it?” I thought. I always had an impression that it was really difficult to fire someone in Germany after the probation period is expired and in my case, it was far behind. So by law, the company would be obliged to give a notice, depending on how long I’ve been employed. So how could they just … stop everything?
The answer was a termination agreement
The company covered its bases. They sent a termination agreement that established some severance pay after the end of employment if signed. Officially, the end of employment would happen on 31 December 2022. But we got “The Email” on 30 November 2022 and were not expected to work afterward (obviously we wouldn’t be able to even if we wanted, since all access was revoked). The clarifying document helpfully enclosed to “The Email” even had a Q&A for this, specifically:
Am I required to perform my job duties during the transition period?
No. We want to ensure that you can spend this time focused on securing other employment opportunities.
The “transition period” was how the company chose to call the month of December when we were still officially employed, but de facto already fired.
Anger was what made me call a lawyer that promised a free consult on the phone about legal employment questions. I didn’t really want to go to court, but I wanted to understand if what happened was indeed conforming to the law. But the lawyer’s response was to this effect: it was because I signed a termination agreement.
I think I skipped the bargaining stage because I was already realizing that I can’t bargain about this. I tried to persuade myself that every ending was a new beginning. Indeed, a lot of people told me so and assured me I’d find a new job, better than the previous one.
Yeah, sure, thought I. With the tech industry being in recession, and even FAANG companies laying people off right and left (Google, Facebook/Meta, Amazon, Microsoft); with hiring freezes everywhere and the Christmas season just beginning, of course, I am sure to find a new job very soon.
People have survived it, though
As I shared my story with my friends’ circle, I was surprised to know that some of my friends went through the same experience. Some of them more than once. And always, it was the same scheme: no or very little warning, then a sudden announcement (often just via email), then immediately cut off of the permissions and access to everything. The most recent massive layoff at Google is perhaps one of the best examples of this impersonal handling of things.
People who weren’t working remotely as I did often were escorted from the office right away, with just their personal belongings, and their computers taken away by security.
Holy crap, I thought that only happened in American movies. It turns out I’ve just led a charmed life. A life with no layoffs, in 20 years of my working in tech!
I guess I was just overdue for something like that, huh?
But it wasn’t the only surprise in store.