In my career as a journalist, I’ve lived through two rounds of mass layoffs.
While I didn’t see either of them coming, hindsight is always 20/20, and I now have a much better sense for when the tides are changing.
To get a better understanding of the signs that layoffs are coming, I polled others who’ve been through them, scoured the news about high-profile mass layoffs, and crawled the depths of the internet.
If you notice a combination of these signs in your own company, it may be time to start looking for a new job.
The most obvious sign: Executives confirm layoffs are coming.
Last year, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and ESPN’s John Skipper sent memos to employees detailing imminent layoffs.
Executives hint at layoffs using other terms, like ‘restructuring.’
HP, which has been going through layoffs since 2008, proves there are many indirect ways of saying “layoffs.”
CEO Meg Whitman and other HP executives have used terms like “downsizing,” “restructuring,” “reorganizing,” “incremental synergies,” “offshoring,” and “streamlining.”
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich used the term “headcount reductions” in an email he sent to employees about rumored layoffs.
And IBM has referred to layoffs as “workforce rebalancing.”
If you hear or see these terms bandied about, it’s time to brace yourself.
Your company gives you a ‘non-negotiable’ job offer.
If you don’t take the non-negotiable job offer, you will get laid off.
Last year, HP gave a group of several hundred employees in its struggling enterprise-services unit an unusual ultimatum: Either take the new job we’ve lined up for you — or get laid off without severance.
A WARN notice has been issued.
If more than 250 full-time employees are being laid off, or if 25 or more full-time employees are being laid off and this constitutes 33% of all workers at the site, a company must file a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) with the state’s Department of Labor 90 days prior to the layoffs.
This is public information that can be found on a state’s DOL website. As an example, here’s the New York site.
Your company’s IPO flops.
As Business Insider’s Alexei Oreskovic reports, layoffs are often a symptom of a souring market. If your company’s IPO flops, it could be a sign layoffs are coming.
Your company is hiring too fast.
For a while, Groupon was the world’s fastest-growing company.
When the company opened its offices in Korea just two and a half years after launching, it hired 300 people in a week by pulling them in off the street, The Telegraph reports. At the time the company had already expanded to more than 40 countries.
Last year, however, the company announced it would lay off 1,100 people and would close operations in seven countries.
When a company grows rapidly, it risks overshooting its needs, and may eventually be forced to make tough decisions. However, there are many successful companies that grow rapidly, hire aggressively, and then settle down.
Your company gets acquired or merges with another.
After Kraft and Heinz merged last year, it announced that the combined company would cut 2,500 jobs, Fortune reports.
Mergers frequently lead to layoffs. As Business Insider deputy editor Sam Ro writes, “synergy” is the one word that should terrify employees: “Synergy is what you get when you eliminate redundancies in your efforts to cut costs.”
There’s already been a round of layoffs.
The first round of layoffs is rarely the last.
Your access to work accounts is denied.
You’re invited to a group meeting with the department head, and her personal assistant confirms with you that you’ll be there.
Based on my personal experience, if the only time you hear from an executive’s personal assistant is regarding a mysterious meeting scheduled that morning for your whole department, your concern might be warranted.
Internal job postings get taken down.
“I was once at a company where I was interviewing for a promotion, only to find out in the middle of it that the position had been eliminated,” one writer told me. “The writing was pretty much on the wall, and when the pink slips started coming, I can’t say I was a bit surprised.”
“It’s always tough, though,” he noted. “If it’s not happening to you, it’s happening to someone you’ve spent years working with, and you know it’s going to hit their family hard in most cases.”
The higher-ups take steps to ‘improve efficiencies.’
Scenes like those in “Office Space” really happen.
Introducing time sheets and bringing in consultants are often the first steps higher-ups take to understand teams better and find ways to tighten.
One editor, who didn’t see her previous company’s shutdown coming, said she should have been suspicious when the company brought a new board-appointed CFO to look over the books. “These are often at least a sign of a turnaround coming for the company, if not a total shutdown,” she said.
Or they ask a ton of questions about what you do.
Superiors asking you to list the daily tasks and responsibilities that you and each of the members of your team perform is a common sign of restructuring to come.
Requests to share passwords, training documents, and other things that may not be written down are sometimes done to smooth impending dismissals.
Higher-ups start quitting.
Senior managers are usually privy to what’s going on at the top. Pay attention if they start heading for the exits.
The discretionary stuff starts to go.
Fewer parties and happy hours, less and cheaper food and drinks in the kitchen, no more expensed lunch for meetings, stingy vacation time — these could all be signs that the end is nigh.
Company bills aren’t getting paid.
“I started receiving emails from clients about bills that had gone unpaid,” said one worker who’d been through layoffs. “I thought the accounts team had just missed paying them, but looking back, that was a sign we were in financial trouble with nothing left in the bank.”
The uprooting of plants.
“No matter how secret an upcoming round of layoffs may be, the seal is never 100% rumor-tight. There’s always one old-school veteran who knows something,” writes Evany Thomas, a brand writer and content strategist at Pinterest who details getting laid off twice in a Medium post.
“And the way you can tell they know is that they start bringing home all their accumulated personal belongings in easy-to-manage nightly shipments. Starting with their plants.”
Conference rooms are booked by HR all day.
Whenever conference rooms are booked all day by your company’s human-resources department, it’s a sign that big changes are coming, and they’re probably not good.
Good news like bonuses and raises can be delivered individually in a number of ways. But HR folks prefer to deliver bad news like layoffs behind closed doors.
Some Yahoo employees reportedly knew layoffs were coming last year: “Employees saw it coming when on getting to work two to three conference rooms in every floor were suddenly reserved for HR with all previously scheduled meetings in the room canceled,” one source told Business Insider.
There are more tissue boxes than usual.
Your office managers could just be stepping up their cold-season game, but if these tissue boxes are conveniently stacked up in conference rooms — especially ones that are booked by HR — chances are some bad news is on the horizon.
There are a lot of empty boxes around.
Unless you missed the memo that you’re moving to a nicer office, odds are those boxes aren’t a pleasant surprise.
Upper management avoids your gaze.
“When I got let go from Friendster, I was blindsided. I totally failed to see it coming,” Thomas writes.
“When all of us let-goners went out for the traditional post-layoff drinks, everybody teased me for missing the signs. ‘You mean you didn’t notice that upper management had stopped making eye contact weeks ago? Amateur.’
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