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. I also appreciate how much even a little bit of notice can help in the transition.
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.
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.
In 2015, 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.
Your company is trying desperately to save its dying flagship product
“A sign that layoffs are coming might be that the company’s flagship product, the one product that has always defined them, starts to struggle and they want to save it,” says Cork Gaines, a sports reporter at Business Insider who has covered layoffs at ESPN.
Gaines explains that in 2015, the broadcaster was facing a very basic problem: “Costs — in this case the cost to own the rights to broadcast sporting events — were skyrocketing and revenue — the number of subscribers to satellite and cable companies — was falling.”
Additionally, Gaines says that some of ESPN’s shows were losing ratings, including its flagship product, “SportsCenter.”
“It’s difficult to overstate how important ‘SportsCenter’ was for ESPN in the years before the internet made everything more accessible. ‘SportsCenter’ was must-watch TV for any sports fan. But the show’s ratings have fallen, and ESPN is struggling to keep it relevant,” Gaines reported on Business Insider after ESPN laid off 100 employees in April.
So ESPN decided to try some new things to save the show. “That meant some people were out, others were in, and still others got moved around,” Gaines says.
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 (DOL) 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 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.
In 2015, however, the company announced it would lay off 1,100 people and would close operations in seven countries.
There are many successful companies that grow rapidly, hire aggressively, and then settle down. But when a company grows rapidly, it risks overshooting its needs, and may eventually be forced to make tough decisions.
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 previously reported, “synergy” is a 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.