With stories of quiet firing, layoffs, hiring freezes, and performance plans spreading across Big Tech, what is going on in the labor market? How do we reconcile a seemingly low unemployment rate and stories of a workers’ market with conflicting data? I interviewed Staffing & Recruiting SME and podcaster Sara Causey to sort things out.
A friend shared your podcast with me and I’ve been binging the episodes lately, especially the Saturday Broadcasts. What inspired you to record those?
I could see the gathering storm clouds and I felt like people had a right to know. Last year, we were still awash in news stories about The Great Resignation and how people could supposedly hop across the job market unendingly and get more money. I knew it was bull and I wanted to say so. The FOMO and YOLO we saw in the 2021 housing market was present in the job market, too. When the lockdowns started, more white collar workers had the opportunity to work from home, perhaps for the first time ever, and they also recalibrated their priorities. The idea of dressing up, enduring a long commute, and sitting in a cubicle seemed pretty ridiculous, especially in the face of a life-or-death illness. The Great Resignation was a very real phenomenon and it needed to happen. With that said, I don’t believe it’s still going strong in spite of what some media outlets claim.
Why do you think it has stopped?
I think people have become more conservative as the cracks in the economic foundation have become too obvious to ignore. Some companies follow tenure when they have a layoff – like the old phrase, “Last one hired, first one fired.” Others will use a first round layoff to purge the dissidents, so to speak, and boot out anyone who doesn’t toe the company line. I hate to be so blunt about it, but I think someone has to be. So if someone is in a job they like and they feel things are secure, what motivation do they have to jump ship right now, in the face of so many layoffs and bad economic news?
In one of your Saturday Broadcasts, you talked about PIPs and how they can be used to push someone out the door. Can you expand on that?
A PIP or a Performance Improvement Plan can come with standards so high that no one could accomplish the goals. Last summer when Zuckerberg was in the media talking about Meta raising its standards and allowing people to “self-select” out the door, I knew things were getting bumpy. A PIP can be used if someone genuinely needs to up their game but it can also be weaponized, quite frankly, and used as a justification to terminate an employee. The narrative becomes, “Well, I’m sorry, John Doe. We tried to make things work by putting you on this 30 day PIP, but you just couldn’t meet the requirements, so we gotta let you go today. But no hard feelings, right?” Depending upon the laws in John’s state, if he was considered ‘fired with cause,’ he might have a difficult time obtaining unemployment benefits. There are loopholes that Corpo America can use to its own benefit.
This sounds a bit like the term “quiet firing.”
Yes. It’s a similar strategy. A PIP is a more direct approach whereas quiet firing is like slow playing someone out the door. I suppose they are both passive-aggressive tactics because, at the end of the day, if the employment arrangement isn’t working out, an honest conversation should be had rather than mistreating someone and hoping they leave on their own so that your company can save a few bucks.
I’m amazed sometimes at the hoops these managers will jump through simply to avoid treating folks in a way that is humane and dignified. Then they wonder why there was a Great Resignation in the first place!
Where do you think the job market is headed for 2023?
That is definitely the million-dollar question. I believe right now, we are in a transitional period. It’s like part of 2022 is still with us yet we are also watching these storm clouds grow darker and more ominous. I most assuredly believe that The Great Resignation for white collar knowledge workers is over and has been for several months now. What comes next? One of my biggest concerns is that we could see something like The Great Recession / Global Financial Crisis 2.0. I hope I am wrong on that, but I’ve seen too many shadows of ’07 and ’08 to ignore it. The Fed has been quite clear in saying that it wants to see unemployment go up and wages stagnate, so . . . connect the dots. I don’t believe the thesis is buried.
If someone finds themselves in an unexpected layoff or perhaps they are put on a PIP, what should they do?
I can’t give any official advice, but I would certainly say this: if it were me, I would want to have a job loss survival plan roughed out ahead of time. Trying to create a parachute from scratch on the way down from falling off a cliff is not so great. I would start with your first five job-related phone calls, i.e., after you’ve called your spouse or best friend to report what’s happened, who are the first five people you will call who can potentially help you to find a new job quickly. Plan that out before it happens so that if disaster strikes, you can revert to the plan in the midst of the worry.
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