[Xoogler — how Googlers call an ex-Googler]
So as we all heard, 12 days ago Google laid off 7,000 employees across the US. I was among the chosen ones, you can read more about my out of Google experience to see it from my eyes.
12 days have flown by, what did I learn, if anything? Well, thank you for asking!
Here’s how I spent my time:
- Friday — The first day — was focused on being in a state of shock and oscillating between “it’s all good” to “I got kicked out of Google???”
- Saturday and Sunday — weekend, family time and surround myself with friends. I’m an extrovert so I draw energy by being with friends — so that was the first remedy.
- Monday and Tuesday — got my hair done then met a few of my Googler friends (some also just lost their job). It’s silly but often when I worked I let myself immerse too much into work and neglected elements of my wellbeing, so the first order of business was to be presentable again 🙂.
On Tuesday evening I came down with something.
- The following week — mostly off the grid. I was clearly sick but tested negative for all the usual suspects. Some friends theorized it’s a psychosomatic reaction to the change. Whatever it was, it distracted me from thinking about my situation. Between caring for the kids, feeling miserable and sleeping, there wasn’t a lot of time left.
While I was miserable I wrote my previous post (Out of Google Experience) and posted it on LinkedIn. That led to massive reach out from my extended network: people I haven’t spoken with in years have reached out and made me feel seen, cared for, and loved.
I was surprised to get much praise for the courage to speak openly about my feelings and the pain publicly via the article. I don’t see that as an act of courage, I see that as an opportunity and duty to help people understand this experience better.
I want to take the time to acknowledge my gratitude for having so many people in my life and for them to take the time to reach out and give me words of affirmation while I’m having a moment.
How to talk to or support your laid off friend?
The overwhelming love I received from my extended network provided me many examples of how people behave in this situation and what I found to be most helpful. Let me share back so we can all offer better and more support to those who are going through something similar.
- Just say Hi — when you reach out, you are signaling to someone that you not only care about them, but you also take the time and effort to do something about it. Even if you are unsure what to say, a simple reach out will do the trick. Someone I worked with back in 2014 warmed my heart by simply emailing this:
Wanted to reach out to say hi. “
- Offer help and encouragement — It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can literally be anything that might help the other person, your time/brain/network, your encouragement.
For me, my network offered to help by making connections, listening to ideas, opening doors etc. Some encouraged me to start my own company and shared their experiences. Several also shared they were let go in the past. That reminds me a bit of the taboo around miscarriages. It’s rare to hear folks share they lost a baby, but once someone shares that, many around them reach out and tell their own story of that experience — suddenly a hidden world opens up to you and you know you are not alone.
- Remind them they are great — tell your peer what they did well when you worked together. You might think that it’s cliche, but sharing a memory of a time that person was great can help you survive the several times a day you are forced to say “I was let go”.
My colleagues reminded me what they loved and appreciated from our shared work experiences. In my hour of darkness, 4 of my past managers told me they’d cherry pick me if they can, referring to “I wish someone would look at the pile of employees and cherry pick me among all others” which made me feel validated.
- Do something to brighten their day — “Giving a gift to someone we care about allows us to communicate our feelings and appreciation for them.” (source).
One friend sent me an edible arrangement, another friend, who works for linkedin went above and beyond and just sent me 6 months of linkedin premium access — that was amazing — she didn’t ask and waited for me to say yes. Instead she just gave me the link, making it super simple for me to accept. When I became a parent, many friends showered my family with gifts. It was a tough and memorable time in my life, and those experiences left a long lasting impression on me, teaching me that physical gifts are long lasting gestures of care, creating warm and fuzzy memories.
- If you are unsure, consult with their family member, or go back to #1 (just say hi) — quite a few people didn’t know what to say and were hesitant to reach out (they eventually did, and that’s when they shared that). In her book “Option B” Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s famous COO) explains that speaking about the elephant in the room is better than avoiding it. You can’t “remind” her that her husband died, she explained, she lives it every minute and every day. In the same vein, you won’t be hurting your let-go peers, you’ll be showering them with attention and care.
Better mass layoffs?
Personally, I not only accepted the way Google went about laying us off, but I also found myself defending Sundar and Google leads in front of my still employed peers. “I can’t think of another way to lay off 7000 people across 3 time zones, it’s operational hell”, I said. Many of those who reached out to me expressed much unhappiness about the cruelty of the faceless approach: you wake up in the morning to an email, and an “access denied” pop up message. No matter how many years you worked for the company, no matter what was your performance standing, it one swift you were outcasted and tossed aside.
Now that I’ve educating myself on mass layoff approaches (one insightful source), I’d like to suggest a few ways to mitigate the negative experiences:
- Voluntary layoffs — Allow employees to volunteer to take severance packages, then when that quota is full, you can follow with merit based layoffs (Delta’s example).
- Lead by example — company leads can take publicly visible pay cuts — if you really are “taking full responsibility” for the situation, that’s a good way to show it (Apple’s board cut Tim Cook’s salary).
- Apply cross-company pay cuts or ask employees to take unpaid vacations — if a company’s goal is to make responsible choices while caring for its employees, there are several creative ways to achieve those goals. I’m open to be proven otherwise, but I’m pretty sure if the message is “we either let go of 5% of the company or everyone take a 5% salary cut” — employee rage will be lower with the latter (see Delta airline’s example).
- Pause hiring and shift employees from low priority areas to high priority areas — Many of the companies who ran mass layoffs, are still hiring, including Google. How weird is that? You let go of skilled, motivated, performant employees, pay them millions of dollars in severance, bring company morale down by negatively impacting all remaining employees, and then you hire new people into your company, investing time in training and on-boarding. Seems like a lose-lose-lose situation.
- Apply a human touch — after sending the email, have a human being reach out to those who were let go, or at least give an option to speak with a human over a timeframe of a week. This can also be done at scale, you can have team leads meet with several past-employees in one go. Again many ways to go about this, but just please be humane. The Human touch principle also plays a big part in my leadership ideology.
Not for the faint of heart — The anger stage:
Here’s my friend and ex-co-worker reaching the anger stage of grief
“They didn’t respect us. We just woke up and were locked out. They didn’t respect the work we were currently doing. They had 750 people decide the fate of 12K. Then, if we want to apply for another position, they told managers to make us go through external recruiting process even though we are still with the company for a few more months. That is fucked up. They want us gone. They don’t give a shit about our performance or our work or where we could help the company. They just said, fuck you, go away.”
I reckon this can be hard to read, but it’s also raw, and real human pain.
9 years in 3 boxes
In the process of writing this post, I took a quick trip to the grocery store. As I come back into the building I’m told I have a package. I see 3 large boxes. “What is that?” I think. Oh crap, it’s my office boxes that Google kindly packed and sent me. Let’s see if I can sift through this, keeping my eyes dry.
The noise Google’s mass layoff created generated increased interest in my linkedin post and medium post. That led to me crossing the 100 Medium followers bar which opened the door for me to fulfill a silly dream I had, to get paid for sharing my stories. Thank you for reading and while I am no longer a Googler, I guess I’m now a Mediumer 🙂.