Perhaps, with its pop culture references, timely hashtags, and a photo of a handsome young man drinking a mojito on a company-branded swing, it was destined to go viral.
“And Just Like That, today marks my last day at Peloton Interactive,” Colin Burke’s LinkedIn post from February 2022 begins. “After three years, I was laid off this morning along with thousands of other teammates and friends.”
After chronicling his time as Peloton’s inaugural social impact marketing hire, doling out thank-yous, and celebrating accomplishments, Burke announced his search for “all things” brand marketing or social impact. “Feel free to reach out with any opportunities or pass my info along!” he concluded.
The post accumulated nearly 15,000 likes and 700 comments, and Burke received close to 2,000 private messages offering job tips and interviews. “Now, obviously, people are laid off every day, and there’s a template,” Burke, 25, says. “Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
LinkedIn, which launched in 2002 as a job search site, has gradually become yet another de facto social network. As workers became emboldened to bring their “whole selves” to work, imbuing their professional persona with their personal life has become equal parts commonplace and advantageous. So has building a personal brand—even if you’re a lawyer or accountant. The “laid-off” posts, which have been flooding feeds in recent weeks and heightening everyone’s anxiety, exemplify that shift.
For a recently laid-off worker desperate to find a new gig, Burke’s experience going viral sounds almost too good to be true. But the phenomenon is becoming less rare by the day. As hundreds of thousands of layoffs grip knowledge industries like tech, media, and finance, workers—mostly younger ones—are turning en masse to share their grievances and despair on the site where their future boss is most likely to see them.
Posts mentioning “layoff” or “retrenchment” increased by 78% from November to December 2022 compared to the month prior, according to data LinkedIn provided to Fortune. “Open to work” posts grew 22% between November 2021 and November 2022. And, where words fail, more than 18 million global members have added the “Open to Work” frame to their profile photo.
The trend makes perfect sense to Dr. Janet Lenaghan, dean of Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. “Gen Z will be 25% of the workforce by 2025, and they grew up sharing all kinds of personal information on social media,” Lenaghan tells Fortune. “That really has jettisoned the shame that older generations may have felt around things like layoffs.”
The power of a well-timed personal story
Burke, who was one of 2,800 people Peloton laid off last February, approached his viral post pragmatically. He felt he needed to thank the people he worked with, but as a marketer, knew the value of a well-timed personal story.
“You need to be thinking as you’re writing, ‘I want to sound grateful for the experience…which can be hard,” he says. “I wrote it hours after I was laid off at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.”
Nikita Kulkarni, 28, was on medical leave from her three-year job doing content design and UX writing at Instagram when she was laid off in December 2022. Around 7 a.m., she received the dreaded “difficult decision” email. An hour later, before she’d told most of her friends, she dashed off a short LinkedIn post with much less flair than Burke’s. She had no model to work off; the only other post she saw that day was her coworker’s, which had already gone LinkedIn viral with 500 likes.
Kulkarni added #metalayoffs to increase the reach and hit publish—“in a fugue state” by that point, she says. The post has since amassed 831 likes and 62 comments, mostly from people she knows, and praise from coworkers: “Nikita is amazing, hire her!”
Lenaghan advises laid-off workers to pause before sharing. “You shouldn’t discount the emotional impact of being laid off; you need a minute to process,” she says, adding you should look ahead once the dust has settled. “Your layoff post isn’t the time to bash your former employer, it’s for really being able to put forward the knowledge and skills and confidence you’ve gained and will bring to your next job opportunity.”
Convention would suggest workers strike while the iron is hot. But not every young person who’s been laid off in recent weeks is rushing to share their story on social media. Abigail O’Neall, 29, was laid off from her account coordinator role at a creative agency in early December. A friend who shared her own layoff story on LinkedIn inspired her to draft her own.
In her attempt to match LinkedIn’s style, O’Neall says she took on a much more serious tone—something she felt contradicted her real-life sense of humor. But that mismatched formal cadence has kept O’Neall from pressing publish. “Wouldn’t people who know me be like, what happened to her? Did she all of a sudden start drinking the corporate Kool Aid?” she says.
She also feels that the successful posts like Burke’s depict a measure of certainty she’s not sure she has. “On LinkedIn, you have to be like, ‘Hello, I’m unemployed, but I’m so passionate about my job and am looking for something in this industry,’” she says. “And I’m just so not there.”
Posting may not lead to a job, but it helps break the layoff stigma and forges connections
As the workforce transforms, the LinkedIn layoff posts will become much more acceptable, changing norms and standards of behavior, says Lenaghan, the Hofstra dean. She doesn’t predict they will supplant the traditional application process entirely; the latter still accounts for more technical details, like cover letters and background checks. But these LinkedIn posts “absolutely” help job hunters make initial contact, she says.
Kulkarni can testify to that. After a few weeks of interacting with people who got in touch with her from her post, she resorted to applying the old-fashioned way. But her post is continuing to pay dividends—she says being laid off “almost engenders a certain sympathy” because people want to help.
The day before our interview, Kulkarni spoke with a recruiter from a large tech company who said they’d heard she’d been laid off and offered to expedite the interview process. “There’s no way they would’ve known that if not for my post,” Kulkarni says. “That was a leg up, because historically, there’s been a stigma. Now we’re flipping the stigma on its head. If this many people have been laid off, we can’t all be bad at our jobs.”
“The way Gen Z talks about mental health and grief and all these difficult topics that are a part of being human, it’s so easy to find community online now, whereas my dad is all about secret shame,” she adds.
Burke also ended up finding his current role as a brand manager at Nike the old-fashioned way: applying through the HR portal with his résumé and cover letter. Nonetheless, he recommends anyone who’s been laid off to make a LinkedIn post—if only to reclaim their agency.
“Being laid off is something that happens to you; it’s numbers in a spreadsheet,” he says. “It really sucks, especially with Gen Z, because we’re so conditioned to think we’re unique, but layoffs remind you that you’re not special.”
It’s the shame she feels about her layoff that’s holding O’Neall back, even though she thinks she’d have “great success” with a post. She’s currently in two second-round interviews and concedes that if neither materializes into an offer, she’ll give in.
“I know it works, but it’s so weird—this dichotomy of [LinkedIn being] a really powerful tool, and also just being a website,” she says. “I’m like, why am I scrolling through this? Why can I not escape this? It’s cringe, but it’s effective.”
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