Don’t Be the Last Person to Know Layoffs Are Coming
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Don’t Be the Last Person to Know Layoffs Are Coming

Forget “quiet quitting,” you really need to watch out for these telltale signs that heads are about to roll

Lately, the kids on business Twitter have been going on about two so-called corporate phenomena: quiet quitting and quiet firing. You may have heard some of the buzz. Me? I’ve lived it. Quiet quitting—which Bloomberg has dubbed “the fakest of fake workplace trends”—refers to job performance that meets responsibilities but fails to go above and beyond in any way. As far as I’m concerned, folks doing exactly what they are paid to do is not a thing. Please untrend this, people, and get a damn hobby.

Quiet firing, on the other hand, is passive-aggressive bullshit, a style of management that offers negative vibes—from nonchalance or lack of support to outright hostility or demoralization—all with the intention of motivating employees to quit. As a manager of people, I certainly do not include this in my playbook. The only games I play these days are Wordle and Drillmatic.

We’re not here to discuss either of those trending topics today, though. Instead, I’d like to get into another “quiet” affair at office jobs: layoffs. Or, rather, the warning signs that precede them.

Related: The Lesson in Being Laid Off

Being laid off is the “it’s not you, it’s me” of working in corporate America. Unlike being fired—the “it’s you, not them” of working in corporate America—layoffs usually consist of swathes of employees simultaneously being relieved of their duties. There’s an odd comfort in knowing it’s not just you. Hell, to this day, me and other team members from a previous job who were all laid off on the same day still get drinks and catch up from time to time. In some odd way, being laid off brought us closer together.

Still, being laid off doesn’t feel good until you land on your feet. And it’s especially frustrating when you’re caught off guard. Looking back on my own experience with being slipped that pink, I realized I should’ve been polishing my résumé six months prior. Like a crayon-wielding toddler, the writings were on the wall all along.

As hard as companies try to act like everything is fine, if you pay attention, you will see the smoke start to rise. Ignore it and eventually you’ll see the fire—the question is whether you get burned, escape safely, or stay on board. (Stop, drop, and roll is definitely not the protocol.) As someone who’s also been on the safe side of a layoff, I can tell you that doesn’t feel good either.

Here are five indications that your company just might have a round of layoffs on the horizon.

There are less freebies

Perhaps you work at a company that regularly provides or compensates for lunch—and management announces a “pause” to this perk. Or maybe your commute costs were covered once upon a time, but now you’re paying your own way to work. How about that very nice kitchen at your job, with a loaded fridge and pantry? Notice the free ice cream bars haven’t been restocked in a month, nor has the white cheddar popcorn? Take heed—these cost-cutting measures just might forecast hits to personnel. The snacks may return, but usually after some people have been let go.

Is there a draft in here? Nope, that's just a hiring freeze

You were told at the quarterly budget planning meeting that your team would get increased headcount. Yet as you’re preparing to make your first offer to a candidate, your boss tells you to pump your brakes: There’s a temporary hiring freeze. This isn’t a red flag; it’s a red flame so big you can see it from the sky. If you came on board at a company while it was on a hiring blitz, you especially have to keep your eyes peeled at first mention of a hiring freeze—these companies are usually more prone to whiplash via layoffs because they’ve realized their hire-everybody-and-their-mama strategy has not worked.

There have been layoffs previously

Ever hear that urban legend about “breaking the seal”? As the belief goes, once you urinate after having a few drinks, you're doomed to back-and-forth trips to the restroom until you sober up. Companies often operate similarly: Once the seal is broken and a wave of employees are sent away with severance packages, don’t be surprised if there are more and more layoffs to come.

Your budget is getting cut

Even if you’re not in a position to be privy to privileged information such as your team’s budget, your manager knows. And when layoffs are coming, your manager will likely quietly signal that shit is getting real by nickel-and-diming everything they can. Remember the team lunches y’all would have whenever it was somebody’s birthday? Enjoy the cupcake with a candle and a poor rendition of the birthday song being sung at your desk. Expensed ride-sharing service if you and your team are working late? They’re not taking that away—but they’ll be strongly encouraging you to wrap everything up by 6 p.m. so they don’t have to foot the bill for your rides home.

Holiday festivities aren't festive

Every company gets a run of two or three years where their holiday party is over-the-top. But around year four or five, if the company is starting to get serious about scaling up and rapid growth, the holiday party budget is probably going to take a hit. There will no longer be an open bar all night; it will now be an hour. They will not be having it at a beautiful venue in downtown; it will be at the office space you'll usually reserve for special guests. The guest DJ will be DJ Playlist. And the finger foods—like the overall experience—will leave you hungry for more.

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