Late last year, Better.com hit the headlines after laying off 900 employees on a Zoom call with no real warning or preparation. The CEO defended his actions by saying that these employees were not performing well, working an average of 2 hours a day but claiming they’d worked 8. After this, he warned other employees that their performance and productivity would be closely monitored.
Since then, the CEO, Vishal Garg, has apologised for these actions, claiming he didn’t show the appropriate amount of respect and appreciation for the individuals affected. However, it raises an important question about the treatment of employees and its impact on your employer brand.
Laying off employees with respect
Let’s start with the mass layoffs. In no world should this ever be seen as a good idea, and it’s no surprise that news of this story took the recruitment world by storm. While it saves a lot of time, it also feels impersonal and doesn’t respect the contribution that employees have made to your business. Letting go of 900 employees in one go is a massive scandal already, but to do so in such a way, can severely damage your employer brand. Even if employees are not performing well, there are more measures you can take and conversations that can be had on an individual basis. We’re working through a pandemic, and there are many reasons why employees may be less productive, from balancing childcare to grieving and everything in between. Therefore initial conversations with line managers to identify any issues and even initial disciplinary actions should always be taken first. Laying off employees is a lazy solution to fixing a problem.
Then, if your business decides you need to let go of employees, do so with respect and dignity while treating them as a person, not a number. Adding them to Zoom call with no context or preparation is no way to end years of employment. Even if an employee has disrespected your business, how you let them go reflects your employer brand, and if word gets out, it could tarnish your talent acquisition efforts in the future. You hired them for a reason. They were a part of your team and worked hard for your business; therefore, the least you can do is treat them as an individual and explain the specific reason for letting them go.
In 2020, Airbnb had to lay off 25% of its workforce (for obvious pandemic related reasons that we won’t go into. However, unlike the cold and clinical method used by Better.com, the team at Airbnb took a transparent approach by giving plenty of warning and an explanation about why he had to scale down the workforce. CEO Chesky also promised to take care of every employee that left by offering 14 weeks pay and an additional week for every year they’d worked with the business. But most importantly, he offered to help everyone who was losing their job find more employment— creating an alumni directory to share their profiles with other hiring managers and offering career advice and assistance. This approach to laying-off helped Airbnb’s employer brand, as although it was a sad story, their commitment to employees and compassionate approach gained a lot more respect. Their employer brand was suddenly seen as empathetic, caring and employee-first, despite laying off employees. Of course, it was the middle of a global pandemic, and no one could blame Airbnb for taking steps to save their business. But, it was going that extra mile to help laid-off employees that gave their employer brand a boost with both the remaining team members and future candidates; they put their people first.
Then there’s the issue of employee monitoring.
After Garg, the CEO of Better.com, laid off 900 employees for not working the correct number of hours, he told the remaining team members that their productivity would be closely monitored. This comes across as threatening and will not be good for employee engagement or internal employer brand perceptions. Scaring employees into working and being productive is no way to build morale. Feeling that their every move is being watched implies teams aren’t trusted and will make them paranoid about the amount of work they’re getting done in a day.
But Better.com aren’t alone in this. The pandemic meant that employees who had only ever worked in the office were suddenly away from managers and working from their homes, which for some employers sparked concern. As a result, in 2020, global demand for employee monitoring software increased by 108% in April and 70% in May. Also, online searches for “how to monitor employees working from home” increased by 1,705% in April and 652% in May. But again, this caused issues for employer branding.
Unsurprisingly, workers don’t like the idea of being monitored. They want to be trusted by their employer that they’ll do a good job even when working remotely. With flexible working, they should have more work-life balance, not being scared that they aren’t logging every minute of the day.
However, there are different levels of monitoring. Task-based monitoring, which assesses how much work is done and how well is seen as the least intrusive type of employee monitoring. This monitoring of productivity is useful for remote teams and is to be expected. However, monitoring the process employees use to complete those tasks or to monitor mouse movement can cause “negative psycho-social outcomes,” like stress or lack of commitment to their work. It can also lead to resistance. Ultimately the use of these tactics will cause many employees to quit. Micromanagement a lack of trust will drive employees to find an employer who values them and respects their privacy, trusting that they’ll get the job. In a candidate-driven market, employers must tread carefully as any signs of mistrust may force good people to leave.
Overall, employee surveillance will also impact employer brand perceptions and employee engagement. If word gets out that your company monitors and micromanages teams, it will deter new candidates from applying. Why would they join you when they could find an employer who has faith that they’ll get on with the job? With so many positions on the market, there are countless opportunities for tech talent. They won’t stay with someone who treats them poorly.
In a candidate-driven market, it’s how you are perceived as an employer that will set you apart from the competition. This includes employee reviews and testimonials, meaning that happy workers are essential to attracting new talent. Therefore, employer branding in 2022 is all about respect and treating your employees as individuals. They want to feel valued and not just a number or head within your organisation. We’ve spoken before about the value of respecting individual circumstances and treating employees with compassion. Although this won’t suit every culture, no business should be so cutthroat that it lays off 900 unexpecting employees on a Zoom call. Even the most target driven company can treat employees as people; that’s just basic manners.
Also, as flexible working becomes more commonplace, employers need to create a culture of trust if they wish to have happy and productive teams. No one wants to feel like they’re being spied on. The whole point of flexible working is that we can go to that doctor’s appointment or pick up our kids from school so long as we get the job done. Monitoring and leaving employees scared to leave their laptops is not the answer. Of course, specific data could be useful to identify productivity. There’s no harm in monitoring performance using HR tech, especially with entirely remote teams. But there are levels of respect and privacy that will help your employer brand; monitoring mouse movements and clicks isn’t one of them. If you monitor performance alone, make sure any issues that arise are dealt with personally, not a mass Zoom call, if you want to maintain a good relationship with employees and a solid internal employer brand. Performance issues should be discussed with line managers and following protocols rather than using underhand tactics, surveillance technologies, or instantly letting them go. Laying off employees should always be a last resort because, above all else, high attrition rates will damage your employer brand and employee engagement.
Talent Works help tech scaleups and startups refine their employer brand communications and EVPs, creating great workplaces where employees thrive. If you’d like help positioning yourself as an employer of choice for tech talent, our employer branding teams will build research and insight-led employer brand strategies that are authentic to your workplace.
We can also help you solve your tech talent acquisition problems, with direct sourcing and digital talent attraction teams ready to help you reach out to candidates in a competitive talent market.
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