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Effective Immediately: Supporting Your People After Layoffs

By Krista Lane on Apr 22, 2020

Effective Immediately: Supporting Your People After Layoffs

If you’ve been recently laid off, we wrote this piece to help the folks who are (or should be) supporting you. We are open-sourcing everything we created for job seekers, and plan to add more content and context going forward. Head over to Effective Immediately, and let us know what you think at effectiveimmediately3@gmail.com.

Layoffs are hard. But these days, they may be the only viable option for your company to avoid an even grimmer future, and we want to acknowledge this difficulty for both those who get laid off and those who are left behind.

How you conduct layoffs matters much more than the layoff itself. David Ulevitch at Andreessen Horowitz wrote an in-depth guide recently that can help with everything to plan/do before a layoff occurs.

Here, we’ll focus on how to support those who’ve been laid off, post-notification. In HR speak, this is typically “outplacement.” Outplacement services are often conducted by a third-party to help laid-off folks find new roles and to improve morale (and retention) of remaining employees.

Triplebyte took another approach (inspired by Beepi’s “Project Blue” in 2016) by using its own Talent Managers – a subset of the laid-off team with coaching, recruiting, and project management backgrounds – to customize support to each individual’s needs.

With this post, we hope to help other startups – and their employees – better support those recently laid-off. We also hope to generate broader community conversation and resource-sharing in an open-source project called Effective Immediately, to be maintained by this core outplacement team after our departure from Triplebyte.

Disclaimer: We are neither lawyers nor financial/HR compliance experts, and you should definitely consult with those before following our advice. We helped soften the blow and get some folks back on their feet (or find their feet), and learned a few things in the process we’d like to share. We’re also not perfect, either!

Appointing Your Team

Triplebyte was uniquely situated to provide outplacement services from within. Talent Managers guided software engineering candidates on the platform through their job searches, so our skills naturally transferred to help our colleagues.

When Kevin, Eben, Jordan and I learned March 10 that the talent management and writing teams’ functions would be eliminated due to a product shift – effective immediately – Triplebyte offered us an opportunity to stay an additional month to lead the outplacement efforts for those impacted. All four of us accepted on the spot.

If your company doesn’t have an obvious team to assign to this task, as ours did, don’t worry. Many people can be readily suited for this work, and folks in other functions can be valuable support! Identify individuals with strong “helper” drives, good internet research skills, do-ers, people who can think on their feet/adapt quickly, or those who can rally others to participate. Other subject-matter experts can contribute more customized support as needed.

We also recommend assigning an executive champion to be a direct channel to leadership and remain accountable for the final outcomes of this work after the outplacement team departs (or finishes, if that group is among the still-employed). In our case, that’s Trent Krupp, Triplebyte’s VP of Operations.

Being Useful

Helping people get jobs is challenging work regardless of the circumstances. “Make the search easier” is a bit broad, so we broke our work down into more manageable components: maintaining connections, facilitating the job search process, and caring for/coaching our people.

Maintaining Connections and Community

We kept communication channels open to help everyone stay connected. Eben wrote forms to collect and share personal contact info, job interests, and referral requests. Jordan created a job search channel in an ex-Triplebyte Slack workspace to share resources and announcements ad-hoc. Kevin ran daily outplacement squad standups. I hosted twice-weekly office hours, a group social happy hour, and wrote a weekly report to keep folks informed, celebrate success, and focus on what comes next.

Facilitating Job Searches

This took on many forms, but we started with putting a resume book together for those who wanted to be included. Getting resumes in a good place is a big undertaking on its own: We offered 1:1 calls with each person to talk through their interests, shared best practices, and reviewed each resume before compiling the final ready-to-share book. We supported each person in creating a tagline that could easily be shared by others to make a compelling introduction and included those in the resume book as well. A summary spreadsheet to accompany the resume book gave viewers a more at-a-glance view of preferences, skills, etc given the unique backgrounds of most of the group.

Then we distributed to our networks. We did this internally for colleagues to share, on our own LinkedIn/Twitter, and directly with most introductions to recruiters we received. (An example of the latter: “Hey, great to meet you. This is my background, but if I’m not a fit, here’s a resume book of my excellent colleagues.”) We shared pipeline-building tips, Eben ran a workshop for networking via LinkedIn, and Kevin built a guide for writing cover letters.

Once people started fielding leads, we helped them prepare for interviews with Kevin’s group workshops on behavioral interviewing and my office hours for ad-hoc help. And each of us offered 1:1 prep, debriefs, or other support as needed.

Caring for and Coaching

At a fundamental level, we cared and held space for the heavy weights on our former colleagues’ shoulders. This may not work in a situation where colleagues didn’t work as closely together or didn’t have a particularly empathetic culture, but ours had both in spades.

Some days, coaching was just being there and listening. Other days, we had more strategic conversations to organize the job search, respond to inquiries, discuss trends, find the right people to talk to, etc. Let the expertise of the outplacement team and the needs of the individuals guide what will work for your teams.

If you’d like a more tactical list, including some of the documentation we created, here’s what our “clients” found useful over the last four weeks.

About the Emotional Labor

Even without a pandemic (and its impact on the economy, politics, etc), losing a job is one of the most stressful life experiences someone can go through. So it should be no surprise that affected parties need to grieve that loss to move forward. Add to that grief the stress of financial/health security and COVID-19’s impacts, and, well ... let’s just say even if there’s no good time for a layoff, now is an especially bad one.

For companies priding themselves on a culture where everyone belongs, can bring their whole selves to work, or who describe their work environment like a family or similarly comforting descriptors, there’s a real opportunity here to embrace or set aside those values. And in most cases, you still have other employees to actively retain after a layoff. They’re watching. Take the time and energy to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and anticipate the needs of your teams – including the recently departed.

Results

As grateful as we are for the deferred layoff date, 30 days is a very ambitious window to place folks into new roles in even the best of circumstances. (Most outplacement services are for 60-90 days, or “until placement.”) Triplebyte was receptive to our concerns, even if they weren’t able to extend our stay further.

Although the four of us have expertise with the hiring market that might normally guide goal-setting, COVID-19 reset everything. We hoped that by 4/15 each person who opted into our support would schedule at least one phone interview. We had no idea how realistic that would be, but as of this writing, we’re happy to report we’ve met our expectations.

Exceeded, even: One person got a job from a lead generated through our resume book distribution efforts! We’re so happy for them.

That was a much-needed win after dozens of “hiring freeze” or “just filled the role” rejections, scheduling delays/reschedules, or phone interviews that actually turned out to be gossip calls from hiring managers who just wanted to know about Triplebyte’s layoffs.

We asked our group how we did, and here’s some of what they had to say:

[I valued] the situation-specific, detailed advice for handling each step of the job search and negotiating with the individual companies. The regular check-ins were also extremely helpful for setting goals and tracking progress.


There were two clusters of things that were really helpful here. First off, everything surrounding the distribution of my resume – I got a good number of inbound requests, and most of that was due to having my resume shared with, for example, other YC startups, and this resulted in a lot of interesting opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise. Second, regular check-ins and various workshops. Especially given current world events, having two or three meetings a week really helped me stay grounded.


To Those of You on Future Outplacement Squads

You are undertaking a ... complicated role. If you’re also laid off, you have your own loss to bear, while helping others bear theirs.

Sometimes, I felt like we were in charge of cleaning someone else’s mess. On better days, I was reassured to have a designated purpose (and paycheck) to anchor us while we wrote our final act. We envisioned and executed toward becoming the team we needed to take on this work.

We all grieve differently, including our final-four team. I threw myself into work as an emotional support and coach, hosting office/happy hours and writing our weekly report. Jordan took on much of the administrivia of transitioning our roles to a support-ticket system and replying to candidates who suddenly lost contact with their Talent Managers. Kevin led many of our workshops and developed most of the original content to help folks feel more confident in their interviewing skills. Eben dove in by creating channels for staying connected and galvanizing supporters into action by presenting at all hands and sharing reminders internally. Find what works for your team and be patient with each other as it evolves-- and it has to. Goals are moving targets in this environment and we need to balance being there for each other, giving each other space, and getting done what we could, when we could.

How Remaining Employees Can Help

This is hard for you, too. You may be worried, “Am I next?” And that may make you afraid to share how you feel. That’s OK. But don’t let it hold you back from reaching out to colleagues you care about, however feels right. The help you’re ready to offer may depend on your situation, but here are some ideas, from least to most involved:

Amplify the awareness distribution efforts of your outplacement team, leadership, or laid-off colleagues – share posts, write your own, or simply like or upvote posts where you find them online.

Keep an eye out for fresh job opportunities that might be a good fit for one of your laid-off colleagues. Referrals and personal introductions are the strongest leads in any job search, but especially during widespread hiring freezes/slowdowns. Can you introduce them, send the post to the outplacement team to distribute, or email the resume book to recruiters you know from a previous job search?

Write LinkedIn recommendations for colleagues you’ve worked closely with. They’ll be able to request revisions/accept/hide your recommendation, so it’s probably OK to do this without asking.

Please avoid drowning laid-off people in job postings or lists you haven’t confirmed are still hiring. In disaster response terms, this is like sending a relief center large, unsorted boxes of the wrong season of clothing – kind, but a lot of work to make helpful. Also, there are dozens of lists floating around, so you probably don’t need to make your own. If you’re not sure, try sending to the outplacement team and they’ll evaluate.

No matter how involved you want to be, offer specific assistance, such as: “I know a friend at X company who’s hiring for roles you’d be great at. Can I introduce you?” or “Would writing a LinkedIn recommendation be helpful?” or “I’m happy to review your resume if you’d like another set of eyes.” They may reply asking for something else, but this is still preferred over the very common, vague, and overwhelming phrase, “I’m so sorry, don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of any help.” It means well, but burdens the person laid off with imagining what you can do for them, and then formulating their ask.

In Closing

Timing plays a huge role in our lives (and job searches) and is often out of our control. COVID-19’s impact on the world has been disastrous. But there’s a silver lining: Because so many people have been (or will be) affected in the same time period, the outpouring of collective resources and support for job-seekers has been immense. Unfortunately, sorting the signal from the noise is too much for any one person on their own while trying to keep food on their family’s table and stay healthy. Employers can make a huge difference by laying on the foundation for a community to support each other after a layoff (along with severance, healthcare, and giving laptops).

Next Steps

  • Triplebyte has unfortunately had two rounds of layoffs affecting multiple teams across the company (the first you’ve read about here, the second is COVID-19-related and will be supported by the remaining recruiting team). All of the affected individuals are incredible colleagues. You can read more about them here.
  • Check out Effective Immediately for more detail, additional resources related to layoffs and job searching, or to contribute your own finds to this open-source collection.
  • Feel free to connect with (or hire!) our outplacement squad on LinkedIn: Eben Dower, Jordan Helsloot, Kevin Landucci, and Krista Lane.
  • Questions? Comments? Email us at effectiveimmediately3@gmail.com.
  • Triplebyte has also launched HackerJobs, an open Slack Workspace to help engineers and data scientists who have been impacted by the economic downturn find their next opportunity.

I’m honored to have served Triplebyte candidates alongside our incomparable team – one of the most collaborative and cohesive I’ve ever worked with – many of whom are still looking for work. The last month isn’t how we imagined closing this chapter. I do hope the curd we’ve conjured from these life lemons will bring some tactical zest to your outplacement efforts.

With editorial support from Eben Dower, Jordan Helsloot, Kevin Landucci, and Daniel Bean.

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