Employers are taking the easy way out and cutting employees through ‘backdoor layoffs’

February 28, 2023, 12:41 PM UTC
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Employers are deploying laying off employees via the "backdoor" by deploying unpopular workplace policies.
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Good morning!

This week started with another round of layoffs at Twitter, but let’s talk about another wave of dismissals happening just outside the limelight—what some call “backdoor layoffs.” In an effort to cut costs while dodging the consequences of a layoff, some employers are creating unfavorable workplace conditions that encourage employees to leave on their own accord. 

It’s a more quiet practice than announcing mass job cuts, but just as unsettling to employees. I first saw murmurs of the trend on LinkedIn, in which employers make work conditions uncomfortable, placing the responsibility on workers to decide whether to quit. 

“The moves, though not labeled as layoffs, can at times have a similar effect in thinning a company’s ranks,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “It is also a sign that bosses at white-collar firms are back in charge after struggling to retain workers in recent years amid a tight labor market.”

Some corporate demands include asking employees to return to the office or retracting location flexibility—cue the anticipated outrage. Employees at companies like Disney and Amazon have sounded the alarm on these strict policies, taking to the web to share their distaste and sign petitions. 

Asking employees to relocate or take a pay cut is another form of a quiet layoff. (Dare I mention Walmart?) Even if an employer provides a relocation package, moving can be costly and pull workers away from integral social support networks. “It really pisses people off. It’s a huge mistake unless you’re trying to get those people to quit,” Google’s former head of HR, Laszlo Bock, told Fortune last year.

While this practice helps trim extra fat without a splash, it often deteriorates trust and psychological safety more than layoffs. In other words: Open the backdoor at your own risk.

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

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"Bare Minimum Monday" is the latest workplace trend. First popularized on TikTok, the trend rejects the traditional pressure to be productive at the beginning of the workweek in favor of prioritizing well-being. 

“On a Bare Minimum Monday, I don't take meetings and take it slow for the first two hours. I'll do some reading, some journaling, maybe some stuff around the house. It's two hours of no technology—no checking email—just doing whatever I need to do to feel good starting my day,” writes Marisa Jo Mayes, the creator of the term, in an essay for Insider.

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- Last December saw the fewest layoffs of any month in the 20 years before the pandemic. New York Times

- A raft of high-profile Fortune 500 CEOs say hiring has become easier. Financial Times

- Employee loyalty is nurtured through personal relationships, not material perks. HBR

- Some Amazon employees were “arbitrarily” given low-performance evaluations, according to an ex-manager at the company. Insider

- Wells Fargo bank managers laughed at a bank teller who a customer mocked for being transgender, a lawsuit alleges. New York Post


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

Twitter 2.0. Twitter laid off a director who went viral for sleeping at the office in the company’s latest job cuts. —Christiaan Hetzner

LinkedIn’s cringe era. Long dubbed the professional networking site, LinkedIn now appears to be giving rise to more influencer content and fewer professional opportunities. —Trey Williams

Crash landing. Airlines and airports are so desperate for staff that they’re now offering free iPhones and childcare. —Prarthana Prakash

Historic union elections. The United Auto Workers union in Detroit will hold its first direct presidential election. —Stephen J. Silvia

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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