All Zoom, No Class



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As described in this NBC News article, 900 Better.com employees found out their jobs were being eliminated in a Zoom call from CEO Vishal Garg earlier this week. Garg has since issued an apology for his poor execution of the Zoom layoff.

There is SO much to unpack here, so I’ll take it point by point.

Layoffs are tough. I have been on the corporate side of this, and it is news that you never want to have to convey. But as a manager or HR employee, sometimes that’s part of your job, and there is absolutely a right and a wrong way to do it. Dropping the ax on 900 employees at once during a mass video call is just plain COLD. This tactic was completely inappropriate unless he was competing for the Evil Guinness World Record for most employees dumped at once. I understand that we live in a new partially-virtual work world that sometimes must hire and fire virtually, too. But what Garg seems to fail to understand is that being fired/terminated/laid off/let go is a profoundly personal experience for the employee. Conveying that news should be equally personal. If Garg was not up to the task, then managers should have delivered this message personally to the terminated employees in person or one-on-one Zoom calls, not in a big town hall setting.

Yes, I did say managers should deliver this information, not HR. Managers often like to leave this dirty work to the HR team, but if they have been the employer’s direct manager through the good, they should also manage through the bad. Ideally, the manager would deliver the news to the employee first. Then a live HR rep would be on hand to explain what that means for pay, benefits, termination checklist, unemployment eligibility, and answer any questions. Having at least two company representatives (manager + HR rep) in the meeting or call is always a good idea and presents a united front that the decision is final.

Garg says, “This is the second time in my career I’m doing this, and I do not want to do this. The last time I did it, I cried. Um, this time, I hope to be stronger.” Poor CEO. Shouldn’t the 900 folks he just let go should all feel sorry for how traumatizing this incident was for him? Good grief, what a terrible leader. A real leader would have a) done everything in his power to make sure it didn’t come down to this, and b) if it were necessary, he would own it and stand behind his decision without resorting to pity statements like this one. Nobody cares how hard it is on him.

The timing of this announcement – just before the holidays – is also atrocious. It’s not uncommon for companies to start looking at their year-end numbers and pull the trigger on a large layoff to try to salvage their bottom line, but it’s still hard on employees to be unemployed at the end of the year. It also makes holiday work celebrations and year-end bonuses super-cringey as workers look around for their former co-workers who are no longer employed. Will they be the ones unemployed by the end of next year?

In his address, Garg let employees know that HR would be contacting them via their personal email with layoff details, which is also not a great way to handle a termination. What if HR has the wrong personal email address? How will employees ask questions about how to access these benefits? Some Better.com terminated employees said it was hours of waiting after the Zoom call before they received anything from HR, dragging out the day’s angst and high emotion. What poor, impersonal handling of the situation.

My single good note about Better.com is that the company was somewhat generous with the severance package. They gave four weeks of severance pay (many industries only offer two) and a total of three paid months of benefits premiums, including COBRA. When companies downsize, it is wise to help terminated employees transition to their next job as efficiently and smoothly as possible by offering severance packages. Having paid benefits for a few months can help the terminated employee focus on the job search and worry less about health emergencies until they find a new job. Additional services that can help during this transition are resume review services, training opportunities, and job fairs with other employers, although few companies offer these transition support gestures.

My sincere hope is that these 900 former employees can shake off this terrible layoff experience and find much better work situations with empathetic management teams. They sure didn’t have it at Better.com.

 

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