A new survey of the laid-off and the still-jobless
Tech layoffs: 'Informed by pink e-mail'
By Porter Anderson
(CNN) -- "Here's the most disturbing result: Of the laid-off workers we surveyed, 76 percent of those who've been laid off in the last six months remain unemployed.
"And 65 percent of those laid off six months to a year ago are still looking for work."
Cynthia Morgan, executive producer and vice president for content at techies.com, is normally an upbeat, wry wit. But her staff's latest survey -- on the experiences of IT pros who have been laid off in the past 36 months -- carries with it a sort of grim quiet.
Indeed, Thursday's report from the U.S. Labor Department has taken some analysts by surprise, showing a sharp spike last week of 42,000 jobs -- to 445,000 -- while many observers had forecast a drop of new claims down to 390,000. The four-week moving average now rises to 410,750, up from the previous week's revised number of 408,250.
And few careerists today have been untouched by the ominous waves of layoffs sweeping the economy, particularly in the tech and dot-com sectors. Morgan is no exception. On December 13, 120 techies.com employees were laid off, roughly 40 percent of the staff at this Minneapolis-based Internet hub for IT workers and employees.
"We qualified 700 tech workers who've been laid off within the last three years," Morgan says, "and used their responses exclusively."
Results of this survey will be officially released by techies.com on its site on Monday. And a second installment of this survey is gathering responses now. That part -- focusing on issues of relocation faced by many laid-off tech workers -- is open now for participation.
This first of two parts has concentrated on questions of corporate procedure. How were targeted workers informed that they'd be laid off? Who broke the news? How long had laid-off workers been employed? What kind of severance pay was offered?
"What we got back," Morgan says, "was a pretty clear message: Forget the counseling sessions and tell the truth.
"These people are often more upset about the deception and lack of respect" they say they feel they suffered at their employers' hands "than they are about losing the job itself. Our respondents certainly told us that losing your job can be a real tragedy, and of course the most compassionate layoffs can still leave some anger behind. But the furiously long comments about someone's last layoff were always about "lies," not about "I lost my job."
Points of departure
"Most of the layoffs our respondents described," Morgan says, "took place when they'd been with the company between three and 24 months. There are lots of probable reasons for this, one of the most likely being that a lot of the layoffs are coming from high-tech startups that simply haven't been in business much longer than that.
"But the trend is even more pronounced for established companies. In the past couple of years it's been common for tech workers to job hop frequently. That's a common way to maximize your earnings. But the downside of this could very well be that employers are less likely to lay off someone who has a reputation for knowing the infrastructure like the back of his or her hand. That doesn't happen overnight."
"Most people," Morgan says of the survey respondents, "saw company layoffs coming. Only a third said it was a complete surprise and about a quarter said they'd been waiting for the axe to fall on their jobs."
Less experienced employees questioned in the techies.com survey were far less likely to say that they'd work for their ex-employer again. But overall, 70 percent of those surveyed said they'd be willing to work for the same company again.
"The most highly-paid tech workers," Morgan says, "also told us they'd be far less willing to work for ex-employers than those making less money."
Surveyed employees making less than $50,000 per year were less likely to receive severance than more highly-paid employees. In this study's data, workers in the New England states got the best severance deals of any region, while those in the South generally received the worst. Mountain state workers also fared fairly well as far as severance went.
The more experienced the tech worker, the less likely he or she was to have their computer services turned off before actual termination.
One respondent, a tech sales worker in the West, commented, however, "I was informed by pink e-mail, believe it or not. When I asked the regional manager if this was a joke, I saw her shaking and nervous. She had to start the conversation with,'You know, this is the hardest part about being a manager.' Geez, Louise, at least come up with an original line for cryin' out loud."
Women surveyed tended to place a higher value on emotional assistance provided by ex-employers after termination. Male respondents ranked skills and interview coaching higher. No respondents, however, seemed to rate such services as being very effective.
"And no matter what your ex-employer tells you at the time of layoff," Morgan says, "don't count on being asked back. Only 8 percent of our respondents overall were given new job offers when the company was hiring again.
"Workers in New England and the Northwest were more likely to be asked back, but not by much. No one with less than two years' experience was asked to return. Most likely of all to be asked back: workers with more than 10 years' experience.
"Seventy-two percent said they'd use their ex-supervisor as a reference in finding a new job," Morgan says.
And one respondent, who had what he termed "the classic dot-com experience," wrote: "In July, we moved to luxurious new quarters that were four times bigger than we needed. At that time, based on experience with similar moves by other startups, I began polishing my resume. When they announced that the company Christmas party was going to be a potluck at the office, I started posting the resume on job sites. I was laid off just after Christmas."
Not all the anecdotes logged with techies.com were complaints.
"The company handled the layoff with kindness," wrote a graphics designer from the Mid-Atlantic states, "and the managers all told us they were coming in advance. Every time things got tough, they would call us into a meeting and truthfully answer questions about the state of the company and whether we were going to be laid off. I've never seen management in a company be so open and frank and sensitive the feelings of its employees."
But those who took the time to write anecdotal comments for the survey, in general, had more negative tales to tell.
"We heard," Morgan says, "about people being called into the HR (human resources) department to fix a computer. And when they got there they instead found a pink slip and someone back at their desk, boxing up their stuff. Or the CEO held a company-wide meeting to announce there would be no layoffs -- and the employee went back to his office to find he'd been locked out.
"About half of those surveyed," she says, "said they weren't offered counseling, legal advice or job placement or interview services. But according to the other half, they didn't miss much. Few rated any of these services better than 'not helpful at all.'"
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