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Laying people off sucks.

A few times now, I have watched that video the woman recorded of herself getting laid off by Cloudflare over Zoom (or whatever). I have a variety of conflicting feelings about it and I am still trying to make sense of them.

I have gone through this same experience myself four times: twice as the person being laid off, twice as the person telling someone they were being laid off. Every time, it sucked.

The first time it happened to me, I had kind of been expecting it for a while. The company had gone through several big rounds of lay-off already, so I figured my number was going to be up sooner rather than later. Still, it is hard to forget that feeling when I joined my standing weekly check-in with my boss and the HR person was there.

It was a by-the-numbers affair, though. My boss gave a quick and obviously scripted spiel and dropped from the call. Then the HR person walked through the dates and details of my severance.

The second time it happened to me, the company was essentially shutting down due to the COVID pandemic—this was mid-2020—so again not a big surprise.

Both times I have had to lay people off, the script has been similar, and that’s shitty too. I have tried to strike a balance between professional and empathetic, but I think there is generally little room in these conversations for anything personal. I had little say in the decision, it’s happening, there’s nothing any of us can do about it, so let’s just get it done with a minimum of fuss.

Watching the viral video through that frame, I will admit to initially rolling my eyes a bit at the person’s shock and outrage.

What jaded me found most surprising about the process in the video is that the HR flunkies doing the lay-off referenced employee performance at all. I feel like the way these things usually go is that there is some hand-waving about market conditions and strategic changes, eliminations of roles and finality of decisions. I do feel like it was strange that the person’s manager was not there but that could just as easily been a logistical issue as a deliberate decision.

But hang on—what am I even talking about here?

Why am I rationalizing how Cloudflare—an enormous company with deep pockets and armies of lawyers and HR reps—treated this person? Why should she not be pissed off and outraged? I should admit my knee-jerk “I’ve been through this a few times” take on this whole story for what it is: a coping mechanism.

Nobody should have to go through this shitty process. People are not fungible resources. No matter how much companies—and Cloudflare is far from alone here—want to turn the people who work for them into commodities that can be spun up and spun down like cloud computing instances, these are humans. They deserve to be treated as such.

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