In what’s shaping up to be the most 2024 trend ever, workers are flocking to TikTok to post their live experiences of getting laid off, laying bare the reality of cookie-cutter layoffs that have recently been sweeping through the tech industry.
One video, posted by TikTok user Brittany Pietsch has already garnered 1.8 million views, prompting an influx of DM's and comments from workers who have suffered similar experiences and even provoking a sympathetic response from her former CEO.
Whether you agree with the clandestine filming or not, as remote working trends further the divide between employer and employee, these viral, short-form videos are sending managers a clear message: treat your workers with respect or risk having your dirty laundry aired online.
TikTok is Exposing the Reality Behind Corporate Layoffs
Last week, Utah-based creative professional Mickella Simone Miller spotted a mysterious ‘catch up' meeting with executives in her calendar and did what any internet-savvy millennial would do – began documenting her experience online.
As the meeting looms closer, Miller – who goes by the alias @jewishmillenial on TikTok – films continuous updates, sewing in seeds of information about the potential layoff, including being asked by a stranger to send over project management resources, and seeing co-workers cryptically vanish off Microsoft Teams.
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“It's thirty minutes until I get laid off, and I feel numb inside”. – TikTok user @jewishmillenial
Several more updates later, she joins the call, where her fears are confirmed. Miller is dismissed by managers, entering her into a pool of thousands of workers who have recently fallen victim to layoffs in the tech industry and beyond.
Miller's video isn't an anomaly. As businesses continue to cut costs by scaling back personnel, a growing amount of disenfranchised employees are turning to TikTok to share their experiences, including former Cloudflare employee Brittany Pietsch, who recently posted a live call of her being let go in excruciating detail.
Unlike Miller, Pietsch didn't take the news sitting down. After being formally laid off for her ‘poor performance' by two HR professionals she'd never met, she challenged the action, telling the people on the call she had the “highest activity” among her team, and questioning why her manager wasn't present in the meeting.
The nine-minute video, which has currently been viewed over 1.8 million times, drummed up such a response online that Matthew Prince CEO of Cloudflare weighed in. In a long post on social media platform X, Prince expressed sympathies with Piesch, writing “The video is painful for me to watch” and that “the mistake was not being more kind and humane”. However, he also defended his company's hiring practices, claiming every org needs to get rid of the people who aren't performing.
But corporate layoffs in the age of the internet are nothing new – so what's driving more workers than ever to document their experience online?
Destigmatizing Layoffs, One TikTok at a Time
According to @golden_pipes, a TikToker who was also let go from her paralegal job this month, speaking about layoffs openly is a great way to normalize what is often viewed as a shameful affair.
“I feel like there is so much stigma around discussing employment,” @golden_pipes tells us, addressing the motivations behind her video which has received thousands of views and over a hundred comments. “Whether it be who you work for or how much you make. I felt so strongly that someone else may have been in the same situation and needed to know that they weren’t alone.”
By detailing the less glamorous reality of getting let go from 9-5's, these videos counter more polished ‘day in my life' content proliferating platforms like TikTok and Instagram. They also lift the curtain on what is normally a hush-hush corporate process, helping to break down stigmas for other workers sharing similar experiences.
“I think people have spent too much time fighting to make ends meet and ending up with nothing that society as a whole is waking up to the idea that employment should be a mutualy beneficial situation.” – TikTok user @golden_pipes
@golden_pipes also thinks the uptick is prompted by people being “exhausted” trying to make ends meet, and workers waking up to the idea that employment needs to be a mutually beneficial situation. As cases of burnout reach unprecedented levels, calling out employers online is just one tool younger generations are using to challenge unrealistic work pressures, with others showing resistance by checking out of their roles or pursuing less demanding ‘lazy girl jobs‘.
But while imbalanced employment relationships are providing workers with an extra reason to speak out against cold dismissals, it's also likely that the changing nature of layoffs is to blame.
The Remote Landscape is Furthering the Divide
In the WFH era, cold in-person layoff announcements have been replaced by even more detached Zoom calls. Not only does this make it harder for managers to carry out the action compassionately, but it can compound feelings of isolation felt by the worker.
Whether companies pass the responsibility onto outsourced HR professionals or fire workers in department-wide Zoom calls like the companies Bird and Carvana, relaying the news virtually is inherently in-personal, and robs employees of the opportunity to ask questions and challenge the decision, according to Organizational Psychologist Dr. Isabel Bilotta.
Sharing these experiences with like-minded online communities can be a powerful way to remedy the pain felt by standardized dismissals. And with so many young workers grappling with similar issues in the workplace, it's no surprise the videos are resonating with scores of viewers online.
So, with mass corporate layoffs clearly taking an emotional toll on affected workers, how can companies avoid going viral for the wrong reasons?
How to Fire With Compassion
Letting go of a worker will never be easy, but there are steps employers can take to handle the process with care.
According to TikTok user @golden_pipes, employers should prioritize transparency, accountability, and ‘old fashioned humility', whilst being mindful of the mental well-being of those affected. Clear and honest communication is vital in this step, as being direct and failing to provide explanations will only make workers feel more aggravated.
While this won't be possible for all businesses, conducting the layoff in person will also make the employee feel more valued and respected. It will also make it easier for them to pick up on non-verbal cues and gain closure from the process.
To sidestep mistakes made by Cloudflare, carrying out the task yourself and not outsourcing it to HR is also a way to ensure the staffer feels dignified, and this also gives them the chance to probe for more information and to receive further justifications.
If you absolutely have to let go of team members, learn more about how to handle the process with grace in our guide to laying off staff.