A viral TikTok video of a Cloudflare employee detailing her dismissal has shone a light on the human impact of big tech layoffs, HR experts have told ITPro.
Earlier this month, Brittany Pietsch uploaded her experience of being laid off to the social media platform, which quickly gained traction and prompted a backlash against the company’s approach during the process.
In the video, Pietsch rallies against two HR staff tasked with letting her go over a video call. Pietsch didn’t react well to the accusation that she had “not met Cloudflare expectations for performance.”
She argued that she had only been working at Cloudflare for three months (and that at least one of those months was marred by the Christmas period), that she had the highest level of activity on her team, and that her manager only ever had good things to say about her.
What these “good things” might have been are left to the imagination, as her manager isn’t even on the call.
“We have never met,” she tells the two members of HR, who proceed to dodge her questions and avoid giving specific feedback about the aforementioned performance expectations.
CEO of Cloudflare Matthew Prince has since publicly responded to the video, describing it as “painful for me to watch.”
“Managers should always be involved. HR should be involved, but it shouldn’t be outsourced to them,” he said in a post to his Twitter. “No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren’t performing. We don’t always get it right.”
The incident has raised questions about the correct protocol when conducting layoffs or dismissing individual staff, however. Alan Price, chief executive at BrightHR told ITPro there was a lot Cloudflare could have done differently in this instance.
“Listening to what the employee had to say about their performance would have been a good place to start,” he said.
“Instead, the employer ploughed ahead and just delivered a pre-judged decision without taking on board anything that the employee had to say,” he added. “In the UK, it is important that employers give the employee an opportunity to present their case before a decision is made.”
“If an employee is dismissed, then they should be provided with reasons for dismissal.”
Cloudflare incident shows firms overlook the human reality of layoffs
With thousands of layoffs announced across the global tech sector last year, and more expected in early 2024, Price suggested it’s becoming too easy for companies to deal in detached quantities and volumes. Statistics, though they provide useful overviews, don’t reflect human experiences.
“It is important that employers remember that dismissing an employee is a big thing for that individual, particularly amidst the cost-of-living crisis when finances are a concern for many,” Price said.
“Employers should remember to approach such conversations with sensitivity,” he added.
Stephanie Maley, chief people officer of Factotum echoed this sentiment, telling ITPro that businesses need to factor in empathy.
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“Dismissals are always personal to the person who is being dismissed,” she said.
“Companies should remember the fact that a person may not be able to pay their mortgage, bills, or buy food due to a dismissal,” she added. “They need to have empathy.”
“In the UK, best practice would advocate that this situation wouldn’t happen, as you’d give people feedback in real time about poor performance before it becomes a dismissal.”
If they're not piling up in the rearview mirror, layoffs are looming on the horizon; AWS was accused of “quiet firing” earlier this month and Google is eyeing more layoffs in 2024. The firing protocol of these companies needs to be top of the agenda.
“The reality of owning or leading a company is that people will pass through – these are the uncontrollable ebbs and flows of running a business,” said Chris Goulding, managing director of recruitment firm Wade Macdonald.
“What leaders and HRs can control is the protocol, particularly in sensitive situations where an employee is let go,” he added. “It’s crucial to ensure that the employee clearly knows why they are being fired, and that you have exhausted all the other tools and options at your disposal, before even considering dismissing them.”
As anyone who’s seen the video can testify, Pietsch had next to no idea why she was being fired. She was kept in the dark about any potential problem until the impromptu dismissal meeting popped up in her work calendar.
Goulding also noted that there needs to be nuance when articulating the reason for a dismissal.
“If it is performance related, ensure that a reasonable period of performance management takes place and that it is not merely lip service; provide training, support, feedback and clear objectives before making the call,” said Goulding.
“If it is behaviour related such as timekeeping, attitude or attendance, then ensure it is apparent that feedback, clear warnings, and opportunities to improve were given every step of the way,” he added.
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George Fitzmaurice is a staff writer at ITPro, ChannelPro, and CloudPro, with a particular interest in AI regulation, data legislation, and market development. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature, he undertook an internship at the New Statesman before starting at ITPro. Outside of the office, George is both an aspiring musician and an avid reader.