Here comes the boot!

8 signs you’re about to get laid off

Early warnings I’ve learned to look out for after 15 whole years in tech

I’ve weathered 2 bubble-and-burst tech tides (in 2000 and in 2008) and I’ve seen many a friend get their pink slip over the years. I’ve also personally been laid off twice. So I know how sharp the ax can be in the every-shifting plate tectonics of tech.

Of course, a layoff isn’t always bad news. Growing up, my dad made a happily balanced on-again-off-again career of working for awhile and then purposefully getting laid off so he could go paint, and repeat. And both times I got let go, it for sure opened the window to much better things. The first time (from Webmonkey a Wired Digital property a Lycos property), I got a nicely beefy severance of 6-month’s pay, which allowed me to take a much lower-paying job in the fine print world. The second time (from Friendster, remember Friendster?), my unemployment checks helped me stay afloat while I wrote a weird little book.

But still, it’s always nice to get a little warning before your worklife detonates. Here are just a few things you might want to look out for:

  1. Fresh CEO blood. At Friendster the board replaced the veteran CEO with a 20-something who rolled in driving a white Porsche SUV so new, it didn’t even have plates yet. On his first day, he used the word “ask” as a noun and bragged about how he still DJed by night. He himself didn’t last long—just long enough to cut loose a good quarter of the staff.
  2. 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. 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.
  3. Loss of eye contact. When I got let go from Friendster, I was blindsided. I totally failed to see it coming. 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.”
  4. Earlier rounds of layoffs. If you’re not in the first round of layoffs, never fear: There are almost surely more rounds on the way. Back in early 2000s, every morning we’d all (meaning every single last person in tech) would tune into fuckedcompany.com to see the very latest first-hand reports from the tech trenches. Because once you saw your company’s name there, you knew it was only a matter of time before your name came up.
  5. Boxes of ominousness. At Webmonkey a Wired Digital property a Lycos property, you could always tell another round of layoffs was on its way because a big delivery of empty moving boxes would arrive at the office the day before things went down. As far as signs go, it was pretty hard to miss.
  6. “Is anybody else’s email down?” If you hear someone yell this out in your open-plan office, and your email still happens to be up and running, beware! You’ll doubtless be buying that person goodbye drinks later that afternoon.
  7. “Quick sync” meeting request from HR. Never a good sign.
  8. The fire(d) drill. This happened to an ex-manfriend of mine at AOL. The firebell started blaring and everybody scrambled out of the building. When the all-clear sounded, half of the people discovered that their employee badges no longer worked. That’s how they found out they were out! Anybody who left their purses or keys or any other personal items at their desks (basically everyone, because who brings their plants with them on a fire drill?) had to call and make an appointment with the security team, who escorted them to their desks to watch them pack. So efficiently horrible, it actually borders on genius. (Though: Turns out this one might actually be legend-ary?)

So there you have it. May you yourself never bear witness to any of these signs! Unless that’s exactly what you’re hoping for, in which case I wish you many happy severances!

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