Feb 21

Do Sudden Layoffs Reflect A Toxic Work Culture?

Toxic work culture is characterised by conflicts, drama, office politics, and unhappy employees, which negatively affects productivity and the wellbeing of employees


Days after Elon Musk officially took over as Twitter owner and CEO, there were several matters of discussion that arose. Twitter one of the most used social media platforms by known personalities, has witnessed a few shocking changes in the company within the past couple of weeks.

One of the most disserted subjects is Musk’s firing of the CEO, and top executives, and laying off up to 3,700 employees from the company. Today we will discuss here, how sudden firing shows a toxic work culture, how it impacts employees’ wellbeing, and how should employees deal with sudden job loss.

When does a workplace become toxic?

Toxic work culture is characterised by conflicts, drama, office politics, and unhappy employees, which negatively affects productivity and the wellbeing of employees.

As per the media reports, Twitter employees were informed on November 3 that they would receive an email the following morning about their status with the company. If employees’ jobs were affected, Twitter said they would receive an email sent to their company or official mail IDs, while if they were laid off, they would receive an email sent to their private IDs.

Next, the California-based Twitter reduced its workforce by about half or roughly 3,700 workers. Along with this Twitter India fired 90 per cent of Indian staff making it a part of global reductions by Musk. In India, about 70 per cent of the jobs were cut from product development and engineering, which worked on global projects.

According to a Bloomberg report, dozens of employees who were terminated were contacted back because some were cut by mistake and others were terminated before management realised their work and experience could help Musk build new features for the site.

So does it reflects toxic workplace culture?

“Yes it does reflect a toxic work culture where survival depends on office politics rather than skills,” said Narayan Bhargava, Chairman and Managing Director of Calibehr, a business solution provider across industries.

Snehal Shah, Associate Dean, Academics and Research, Bhavan’s SPJIMR said, “A culture is considered toxic when employees do not feel respected or empowered and when management policies do not favour employee growth and wellbeing. On all accounts, Twitter’s actions of laying off 90 per cent of staff in India have demonstrated a prevalence of a toxic culture.”

“Sudden announcements, ad-hocism around who goes and who stays and cutting of email and slack access without notice are some of the actions that will go down in the HR playbook as ‘what-not-to-do-at-any-cost’ during such disruptive organisational changes,” she said.

Hence, Twitter was sued for failing to give its employees enough notice of the layoffs, allegedly in violation of federal and California law. Employees would receive two months’ worth of severance pay, according to Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

How does toxic work culture affect the employees?

Displeasing or deviant behaviour from an employer can undermine an employee’s image and damage their confidence. When managers or senior employees make harsh or rude comments, it encourages others to do the same.

Shah said, “Toxic culture is very counter-productive to employees’ mental health and well-being. It can adversely affect their self-esteem, cause burnout, and trigger psychological illnesses such as heightened anxiety and even depression.”

As a result of a toxic culture, employees often feel powerless and punished for raising concerns. This may lead workers to go into depression, anxiety or stress. Also, it can affect their physical wellbeing as they can often fall sick for lack of sleep, untimely eating, overwork, etc.

“For any new-comer to have understanding of business overnight and to find redundant people is nearly an impossible job. So; people who were asked to leave are essentially the ones who were targeted by the other fractions in the company. This sort of toxic culture does not speak well neither of the employees nor for the organisation.
In a company, which has a toxic work culture; employees tend to be politically driven rather than skill is driven. Our experience has taught us, that growth comes when there is zero toxic culture,” said Bhargava.

Apart from employees, a toxic work culture can also affect the organisation’s performance as it weakens the workforce and lessens productivity.

“Toxicity spreads like a virus. Employees become less trusting of each other, teamwork suffers and increased insecurity can make employees less productive. Toxic culture is an anti-thesis to growth, creativity and innovation,” said Shah.

How do layoffs affect employees?

Layoffs can have devastating effects on both suspended and terminated employees as well as those who survived. Those laid off may exhibit shock, anger, distrust, doubt, frustration, and escapism.

Employee layoffs, if not handled properly and carefully, may lead to protests and disputes. Moreover, if not handled tactfully, it will worsen the already existing situation. Conversely, those who are not laid off and survive during the layoff period are in no better position than those who do not lose their jobs.

Richa Telang, founder and CEO, TrueBlue Advisory, an employer branding consulting firm said, “Layoffs are at an all-time high. However, prepared you may be, these can come as sudden news. In times like today, companies will have to maintain their ongoing business to keep up their financial health and make tough decisions about their task force. The employees will have to deal with the inevitable scenario with mental strength and financial preparedness. For employees, it is important to understand that a situation like so is not the end of their career and that there are plenty of opportunities outside.”

“The economy and, consequentially, businesses will stabilise and grow after a period of low tide. It would be ideal if talent could turn adverse outcomes into positive opportunities. However, it will take a lot of courage and mental strength to get through this phase to end up in a more enriching place than their former role. In times like today, I advise all employees, whatever position they may be at, to plan financially for at least one year and increase savings to ease the pressure. Financial comfort could provide the required confidence without external dependency. This will also allow talent to focus on finding their next move with one less thing to worry about,” she said.

How to handle sudden job layoffs?

A layoff is an overwhelming and stressful experience that involves loss and change. It may be a welcome relief from a stressful job situation or an opportunity to move on in life for some people. However, job loss can have a significant emotional impact on others. While people deal with change and stress in many different ways, the following are some possible emotional, psychological, and physical reactions that one may experience.

Mithun Vijay Kumar, a Content Management Professional, Author, and Political Analyst said, “Your work shapes your daily routine, so a job loss can take a toll on your well-being. For many, their source of identity and stable income is their profession alone. That’s the reason why during the period of unemployment, the future appears unclear and terrifying.”

  • To cope with a job loss situation, first, you must acknowledge the problem and start thinking of what’s next.
  • Reorganise and start looking out for opportunities without beating up yourself. Try journaling the job loss situation and list out the possibilities of the next career option underscoring your skills and experiences. This will keep you confident and help you focus on your abilities instead of feeling at loss.
  • Don’t take the burden of job loss all by yourself. Don’t be hesitant to discuss your situation and seek help from your friends, ex-colleagues, and family. You never know when one discussion leads to another and opens up doors of opportunity.
  • Another important task is to make up for the loss of daily activity that comes with job loss. Redesign the schedule in a way that helps you take charge of your day and stay focused.

Christopher ‘Chris’ Roberts, founder and MD, Engaged Strategy said, “A time of layoff is quite stressful emotionally, and oftentimes, even financially. If the layoffs are in large numbers within an industry, every job advertisement can receive hundreds of applications. Under such circumstances, there are few things to consider for a skilled professional to be identified.”

  • Communicate what makes you unique in your resume to make you stand out in a sea of sameness and get you noticed.
  • Don’t list your job duties or position description in your CV or job interview. Instead, list your achievements.
  • Remember that organisations are looking for candidates that can hit the ground running. Hence, always make it a point to address job requirements with solid experience outlining what you have already done in this space.

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