Jan 29, 2024 - Business

Viral layoff videos reflect a sea change in work culture

Illustration of a cell phone laying flat, stylized as a tissue box with napkins coming out from the screen.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"Your last day is today." These five brutal words, integral to most layoffs, have typically been heard privately. Not anymore.

What's happening: As a spate of layoffs continues in tech and media, workers — especially younger ones — are sharing the intimate details publicly on TikTok, LinkedIn, X, and other platforms.

Why it matters: This is a sea change for work culture. Getting laid off or fired was once a process kept relatively private. But today's workers have shaken off whatever stigma was once attached to job loss.

  • They're sharing feelings ("feels like a breakup but one-sided"), posting videos of the actual moment they get the news, openly crying, and generally seeking support and new opportunities by going public.

State of play: Earlier this month, 27-year-old Brittany Pietsch shared a video of herself being fired, remotely, by two people she'd never met. It went viral, ultimately prompting the CEO of her former employer to respond.

  • Though Pietsch is feisty in her video, openly questioning her executioners about the process, her TikTok ends painfully, her eyes shiny with tears.

Similar videos on TikTok are emotional and, frankly, hard to watch for anyone who's been let go. After watching one, a woman who'd been laid off a few years ago said her heart was pounding, "triggered."

  • A woman calling herself JewishMillennial posted a countdown video earlier this month on the day she expected to get the ax.
  • "This is me five hours before I think I'm gonna be laid off," she says, explaining she's gotten a mystery "catch-up" meeting added to her calendar by her boss's boss.
  • By the end of the video, she's dialed into a meeting. "We have some tough news to share," a voice says.

Zoom out: This isn't just about social media pushing people to share. The shame of layoffs melted away when COVID struck in 2020 and millions lost jobs, said Roger Lee, the founder of Layoffs.fyi, which has been tracking startup and tech firings since 2020.

  • "Suddenly layoffs became more normalized and understandable," he said. "It wasn't anybody's fault."

Remote work also plays a big role. Workers who get laid off while working from home are all alone. There's no one there to commiserate with. Slack and other digital connections to colleagues often are abruptly severed.

  • Getting laid off when you're working remotely is a lonely, scary and sad experience. Sharing online is a way to cope.
  • Plus, in a tight labor market, the balance of power between management and labor has shifted and workers may now feel more emboldened to discuss their employers — less afraid they won't find another job.

Between the lines: These videos and posts serve as a check and a warning to employers, "holding companies, HR teams and managers accountable to conduct more humane layoffs," says Erin Grau, cofounder of Charter, a a future-of-work media and research company.

  • Conduct your layoff or firing poorly, and you risk a run of bad publicity.
  • "HR is the new PR," says Grau.
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