How layoffs became less taboo

Many workers are embarrassed or devastated when they lose their jobs; therefore, why are more shouting the news from the mountaintops?

Maddy Cross was laid off from her job at a US-based advertising and marketing agency in March 2020, after the novel coronavirus sent the global economy into a tailspin. “It felt shameful – ‘oh my gosh, so embarrassing,'” says Colorado resident Cross. Despite feeling like she was disclosing “a dirty secret,” she shared the news on LinkedIn and was encouraged by the comments she received.

She eventually found a new job. Cross, however, found herself in a familiar situation in early August 2022: she was part of a large corporate downsizing at a major tech firm.

Cross reminded herself that “every good job I’ve had has come from my community,” despite her feelings of shame. So she put her self-consciousness aside and took to LinkedIn, writing another public post informing her network that she and her colleagues were part of a mass layoff and that she was looking for a new job. But this time the reaction was stronger.

She didn’t think much of the post at first: “I hung up the phone, went out for a drink with a friend, and didn’t pay much attention to it. Then, while I was cooking dinner, I noticed it had 100,000 views.” Hundreds of people, both friends and strangers, had responded with words of encouragement and job leads. “In the last 24 hours, I’ve had 500 people request to connect with me,” she says. “Waking up to hundreds of LinkedIn notifications was an odd sensation, but I’m hoping it will lead to some useful connections.”

Stories of workers posting about their job situations and actively seeking connections for new opportunities have become more common in recent months. The economy is currently in flux: the job market in countries such as the United States remains tight and still favours workers, but hundreds of businesses are also laying off workers; a possible recession looms, and many businesses over-hired last year when the economy was stronger.

Instead of feeling humiliated and contacting headhunters from the shadows, thousands of workers affected by these layoffs are being open about their experiences on public forums such as Twitter or LinkedIn. And as layoffs continue, these posts may become more common, transforming a once-shy subject into an opportunity for positivity, growth, and even new jobs.

‘I’m not ashamed of what happened’ 

Losing a job is devastating for most people, and layoffs are still a gruelling ordeal, regardless of how well they are received on social media.

“It feels like being discarded – discarded and completely vulnerable,” says Patricia Graves, knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management in the United States (Shrm). “Undoubtedly, workers may believe that being laid off reflects poorly on them, as if they were the ones deemed expendable.”

However, that thought process could be changing. According to Kirk Snyder, professor of clinical business communication at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, the shift to building and maintaining social connections online during the pandemic made people more comfortable sharing their experiences online, including layoffs and job searches. “It’s about informing your network that you’re looking for work. Nobody can help you if no one knows you’re looking for a new job.”

After all, so many people were forced to look for new jobs while under lockdown or in isolation due to the pandemic; as a result, discussing job loss online with a larger community has become more normalised and visible. In 2020, LinkedIn, for example, added a “#OpenToWork” frame that members can add to their profile picture to indicate that they are actively seeking opportunities.

“I’m not ashamed of what happened; it happens to thousands of people every day,” says Joe Fiaoni, a sales recruiter based in the United States who was laid off from a software development firm in August. He almost immediately announced the news on LinkedIn, stating that he was actively looking for a new job.

Indeed, the most obvious reason workers are going public with their layoff news is that it could lead to a new job. Fiaoni, like Cross, had been laid off at the start of the pandemic, and he had also shared the news on LinkedIn at the time. He claims that his first post resulted in a contract job that got him back on his feet. But this time, he says, he’s gotten an even bigger response.

Waking up to several hundred LinkedIn notifications was a very odd sensation, but I’m hoping it can provide some useful connections – Maddy Cross

“I’ve already had six interviews,” Fiaoni says, adding that he’s received words of encouragement or offers to forward his CV from people ranging from “people I’ve known for 15-plus years to someone I didn’t know existed until they saw my post.”

‘Hire my friends’

Job loss has historically been an isolating experience, particularly when kept quiet. However, as taboos are broken and employees become more comfortable speaking up, another silver lining is emerging: former employees are finding much-needed community during a difficult transition period.

“Everything seems so cold in the world of remote work and corporate layoffs,” says Cross. But she says people responding to her post “has just been so incredible, and a real point of positivity”.

That positive feeling stems from the engagement generated by social media posts like these. Even people who don’t have a job or a connection to offer can signal a boost by “commenting for reach,” which simply increases the likelihood that the public post will be viewed by others. And employees, both those who have survived layoffs and those who have not, work to help others find work, not just themselves: Cross, for example, used the hashtag #HireMyFriends in her viral post and shouted out former coworkers in the thread after being let go along with many others on her team. Others use Twitter threads to praise colleagues who have been laid off in order to help them find new jobs.

“Who knows if the Singaporean who commented on my post could help my friend in Cleveland find work? That is now possible “Cross explains.