4 minute read

The beginning of 2024 has witnessed a resurgence of layoffs in the tech industry, catching many by surprise. Once again, employees are afraid and uncertain about their futures. The pressing question on everyone’s mind is: Which company will make the next cut, and who will be affected?

Today, I came across an insightful article on HBR.org titled 5 Reasons People Get Laid Off by Marlo Lyons. This article offers valuable insights, and I highly recommend you read it.

Understanding why layoffs occur can empower us to proactively safeguard our careers and mitigate some of the associated stress. With this in mind, I’d like to share and summarize some key insights from the article.

Here are a few reasons why people get laid off:

Lack of skills advancement

Employees are 100% responsible for continually upskilling and reskilling. While companies may offer resources to learn new skills, they tend to teach to the entire employee population, so most talent development programs focus on management skills […]

But employees need to continue to advance their hard skills, such as becoming technically proficient in AI applications or new programming languages. Those who don’t continue to evolve their skills to keep up with rapidly changing business needs may be targeted for layoffs.

In most tech companies, particularly in software engineering roles, the job inherently involves continuous learning. It is crucial to demonstrate a commitment to reskilling and to develop personal growth plans that align with your team’s or company’s objectives.

You’re an “overseer,” not a “doer”

The most straightforward method to meet the assigned cut percentage is to eliminate the positions of individuals with the highest salaries, particularly if they’re not actively involved in accomplishing the work. Managers who lack hands-on involvement may be seen as less valuable to the organization, as there is a perception that they’re not directly contributing to task and project execution.

Managers who are invaluable to an organization find a balance between strategic leadership and hands-on involvement without micromanaging their teams.

Lack of visibility

Being the quiet worker bee won’t protect you from being laid off. In fact, being invisible could be your downfall. When determining which roles to cut, if senior leadership doesn’t know who you are, what you do, or the impact you make, your job could be an easy choice for elimination.

Lack of performance

When companies need to cut their budgets, they’ll likely try to eliminate those who are considered non-performers. Where more than one person is doing a particular job, layoffs provide managers a ripe opportunity to cut low performers without having to do the hard work of giving them more feedback or putting them on a performance improvement plan.

Employees must realize their manager’s perception means everything. So even if you think you’re doing a great job, if your manager doesn’t agree, you could be deemed a poor performer and be on the chopping block.

This one is particularly relevant for software engineering roles, as it accounts for many terminations I’ve observed in the tech industry’s post-pandemic layoffs. It appears to be the primary criterion used by senior leadership.

I’ve witnessed competent engineers who had one performance cycle rated ‘below expectations’ being selected for layoffs. Under normal circumstances, these individuals might have been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and given a chance to improve.

Maintain constant vigilance regarding your performance. Proactively seek feedback on your work, learn from it, and ensure alignment with your manager and peers.

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