Massive layoffs have always been (are, and will be) controversial... and painful.
Notwithstanding the existence of well-established best practices over time, it has been impossible to converge to a set of infallible formulas. These are multiple fractures of bonds and dreams... the damage is irreparable.
In industrial times, massive layoffs broke with the job-for-life promises attached to employment contracts. All of a sudden, hundreds or thousands of employees – many of whom with the company for several years – were introduced to clever voluntary termination programs, while others witnessed the simple shutdown of their manufacturing unit.
Loyalty bonds were betrayed by the sudden termination of employment contracts believed eternal. In those days, the commotion of the community and plight of the families were experienced more often given the low media exposure. Respect and care became aspirational watchwords amid the tragedy. Many pioneering companies developed robust termination processes with traits of corporate social responsibility.
Time went by. New synthetic times unfold. The same fluidity that breaks down neighboring borders has also caused surprises and starts. Years of bonanza have brought infinite access to cash for garage startups candidate to unicorns in the fantasy world of market values removed from consistent generation of EBITDA. Millions of people believed in the appealing narratives surrounding growth hacking and network effect, reveling with the universe of corporate playgrounds.
Instead of trinomial stability-loyalty-hierarchy, the new trinomial connection-experience-expression gained strength. Instead of individual performance evaluations with forced curves, collective evaluations in cells and tribes. Instead of stepped careers, special missions.
Cute mercenaries invaded the beaches of haughty war veterans...
Relationships became more fluid... expectations were synthesized to the immediate current value... an ode to sex without commitment...
The detachment from careers and the very work relationships has been accompanied by the self-centered focus on the individual path in a patchwork, causing certain frustration to senior leaders in the face of the apparent “lack of commitment to the firm” seen in new generations. Those sentiments are exacerbated by voluntary termination movements amongst those “ungrateful and immature youths”... So have behaved the voices from the top of organizations in hallways far from the politically-correct spotlights.
Great resignation and quiet quitting have taken up a lot of space on the specialized media as inexorable movements of the contemporary times, when talents were renouncing more conventional industrial labor pacts. The workers would finally be subjugating the capitalists.
Nonetheless, the burst of the bubble of the anabolized digital natives brought on another perspective to the same phenomenon: the massive layoffs of digital workers by their (previously) immaculate sponsors (I would not dare call them mere employers here). Especially, the negligent coldness of the managers in highly praised companies involved in conducting the successive termination waves caused certain surprise. Curiously, this time public opinion was very moved by the Massive Layoffs on the countless social media – a complete neglect of the human: might it have been a cynical and visceral revenge by frustrated veterans? might it have been yet another evidence of the incompetence of the new generations of leaders? might it have been an abyssal blind spot from self-centered founders and impatient investors?
I have been affirming for a long time that in addition to the glaring hype of high tech there is the idyllic humanism of high touch. Corporate environments have embraced high tech as platforms for efficiency and breadth of the organism. Yet, in general, they have shifted their obtuse views from the oppressive command-control to the carefree perspectives surrounding the superficial fluidity. True high touch has always been, and will always be, in the affection. So are built (until today) trust relationships and resilient pacts across groups of people mobilized around a shared and inspiring agenda.
Yet, what is the ethical difference between Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, on the one hand, and Massive Layoffs, on the other? Would they not be, on the contrary, sides of the same coin in a new paradigm characterized by superficial relationships and impressions?
Whatever the case, in the New Economy’s global war for talents, in addition to inhumane in their formats, many Massive Layoffs have caused irreparable damages to the multistakeholder reputation of several digital icons. After all, the contemporary suffering is also scalable in its echoes. Terminating people (contrary to switching off computers) does not work by simply pushing buttons... one of the harsh and obvious lessons learned lately.
Every robust social organism requires daily mutual involvement around dreams dreamt together. Otherwise, there only are fragile social groupings in the push-pull of missions with a beginning, middle, and end. In this context, the virtual workplace weakens (even if celebrated by the remaining dimensions of our human lives), the ephemeral bonds break, and the transactional exchanges reduce the organizational logos.
Massive layoff processes – those that reach everyone all of a sudden, as a downhill flash flood – are a mere part of this wider-reaching social construct. And, exactly for that reason, they reflect the essence of the place. Hence the lack of surprise about the inability of fragmented organizations to deal with the complex, which requires solid consistency and systemic vision.
Amid all that, many broken hearts, many dazed minds...
Daniel Augusto Motta é Managing Partner e CEO da BMI Blue Management Institute. Doutor em Economia pela USP, Mestre em Economia pela FGV-EAESP e Bacharel em Economia pela USP. É Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. Atua também como Managing Partner da corporate venture capital WhiteFox sediada em San Francisco (EUA), como Senior Tupinambá Maverick na content tech Bossa.etc e com Membro do Conselho de Administração da Afferolab. Também atua como Diretor de Planejamento Estratégico da UNIBES e Membro do Conselho Deliberativo do MASP. Foi Membro-Fundador da Sociedade Brasileira de Finanças. Foi Professor nos MBAs da Fundação Dom Cabral, Insper, FGV, ESPM e PUC-SP. É autor de diversos artigos publicados por Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA e Folha de São Paulo, e também tem três artigos publicados pela Harvard Business Review Brasil. É autor dos livros best-sellers A Liderança Essencial, Anthesis e Data Insights.