After working in the Valley for over 20 years, I’ve been on all sides of the layoff experience many, many times. Here are a few more precursors that I’ve witnessed. Some start happening months in advance, but others are a sign that a layoff will be executed in the next 24 hours.

  • The free food and drinks start to taper off and disappear, or the quality drops dramatically (more typical at startups).
  • Typical longer-term planning activities are “postponed.”
  • Hiring is frozen, and open reqs are either put on hold or closed.
  • It’s usually a sign that you will personally be laid off when senior management postpone a meeting with you that they usually accept, and/or you stop receiving invitations to meetings for long-term planning or where confidential/strategic information will be discussed.
  • Entire teams are reassigned to new management when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Sometimes senior management will move a team to a more junior manager to pass on the unpleasant task of the layoff.
  • Large numbers of conference rooms are suddenly unavailable on the same day. Usually a room or two are reserved on every floor of every building across the campus. Clumsy companies will even let it be seen that HR has reserved these rooms.
  • New boxes of Kleenex mysteriously appear in these reserved conference rooms.
  • All management is suddenly pulled into a series of meetings across a 2–3 day period (to plan the layoff). These managers will find it difficult to answer directly when asked what is going on.
  • Work-from-home days (WFH) are fairly common in tech companies. Employees will be told that everyone needs to come into the office on a specific day and that they cannot WFH that day. Thus, the layoff day is identified.
  • Your corporate VPN suddenly stops working, thanks to IT staff that pulled the trigger too soon.

Fun times. Layoffs are an inevitable fact of life in tech, but they aren’t the end of the world. Sometimes it might be just what you needed to knock you out of your comfort zone and onto a better career path. But, no one likes an unpleasant surprise, so it’s good to recognize the signs, be prepared, and brace yourself for the moment you walk into the meeting room and see the smiling face of HR seated next to your manager.

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