- REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
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.
The most obvious sign: Executives confirm layoffs are coming
- Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
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
- Andrew Burton/Getty Images
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
- REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
“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’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.
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
- Thomson Reuters
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
- REUTERS/Joshua Lott
The first round of layoffs is rarely the last.
You’re invited to a group meeting with the department head, and her personal assistant confirms with you that you’ll be there
- REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
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
- Rachel Gillett/Business Insider
“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 Business Insider reporter 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.”
You’re expected to do more with less
- Michael Duxbury/flickr
Employees facing layoffs may first be asked to do more with fewer employees and resources in a last ditch effort to turn a profit.
People are told they can’t work from home on a specific day
- Getty Images/Mario Tama
Larry Cornett, founder and CEO of Voicekick, writes on Medium that after working in Silicon Valley for more than 20 years, he’s come to regard certain anomalies as signs layoffs are coming. Losing the ability to work from home is one of them.
“Work-from-home days are fairly common in tech companies,” he writes. “Employees will be told that everyone needs to come into the office on a specific day and that they cannot work from home that day. Thus, the layoff day is identified.”
The higher-ups take steps to ‘improve efficiencies’
- YouTube / Office Space
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 Business Insider 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.
Higher-ups start quitting
- Margin Call screenshot
Senior managers are usually privy to what’s going on at the top. Pay attention if they start heading for the exits.
Or they ask a ton of questions about what you do
- VFS Digital Design/Flickr
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.
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, stingier vacation time – these could all be signs that the end is nigh.
Company bills aren’t getting paid
- PROAlan Levine/flickr
“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
- Tim Lucas/flickr
“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
- Thomson Reuters
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 in 2015: “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.
Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson reports that Employees at Sears had also speculated for weeks that layoffs were coming:
“Nerves flared when one person discovered through the company’s internal calendar that more than 30 rooms were simultaneously booked on the corporate campus for several hours on Thursday for ‘strategy sessions.’ That information was shared on a message board and led many people to think job losses were on the horizon.”
Sears laid off 130 employees at its corporate offices in February.
You notice ramped-up security
- Getty Images/Cate Gillon
Peterson also reports that on employee message boards, people who said they worked for Sears corporate said there were “lots of tears ” when the layoffs hit in addition to added security at building entrances.
As these reports indicate, getting laid off can be a highly emotional experience. Companies will often take security measures like escorting dismissed employees from the building to make for a smoother exit.
Your access to work accounts is denied
— Bart Teeuwisse ❄ (@bartt) October 13, 2015
Companies will also often suspend access to work accounts so you can’t steal any confidentail information, corrupt any company data, or launch cyber attacks. Some companies will do this preemtively.
If you’re locked out of password-protected, company-monitored accounts, it might not be a glitch.
All managers are suddenly pulled into a series of meetings that span a few days
- Flickr/Sebastiaan ter Burg
Cornett says this is another sign layoffs are in the works. And if managers find it difficult to directly answer questions about what is going on with all the meetings, this could serve as confirmation.
There are more tissue boxes than usual
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Your office managers could just be stepping up their allergy-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.
- Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
Unless you missed the memo that you’re moving to a nicer office, odds are those boxes aren’t a pleasant surprise.
You stop getting invited to important meetings
“It’s usually a sign that you will personally be laid off when senior management postpones a meeting with you that they usually accept or you stop receiving invitations to meetings for long-term planning or where confidential/strategic information will be discussed,” Cornett writes.
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.'”