Under normal circumstances, there is a responsibility when a business is in growth around future-proofing the organisation. This responsibility should also comprise of a need to hire sustainably.
But in times of excessive demand and sudden growth, this is challenging to achieve, as it is at times of significant reductions. Perhaps, it is more about ensuring we future-proof the people we hire. To ensure they have the resilience to deal with the inevitable changes in employment that will come their way through reskilling or upskilling, supporting them as demand changes.
The huge hire budgets we have seen recently will not always exist in the long term. So, a critical issue business must address is how we help individuals hired in times of excessive demand to ensure they are employable when those jobs disappear.
It is estimated that by 2032, automation and artificial (AI) will displace 85 million jobs, but it will also create 97 million new ones (WEF). So, how can we help our employees evolve as the jobs available change?
I believe, as a business, we have the responsibility to continue to reskill and develop our people to future-proof them in their lives and ensure that the business continues to grow in the way you want it to. A person joining a company today will likely not be doing the same job in five years as the world is changing so rapidly.
Above all, businesses need to recognise that each employee can develop personally. This is the reward of having that person’s commitment to your organisation. There is a vast level of pride that you can attribute to growing a person into a senior business role.
60% of our senior leadership team has been with Ultima for 10-15 years. Resultingly, there is a mass of cross-functional value across the business. There is real value in keeping the depth of knowledge that comes with many years in a company within the senior team and having diversity within teams.
It is inspiring and sustainable to provide the capacity for a person to expand to different roles within a business.
How could the mass layoffs have been prevented?
Recent tech layoffs have been about future-proofing organisations to reach the profitability they need to exist. Many have experienced excessive demand, and, in that state, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of continual growth.
In a bid to deliver, they have needed to hire more people, but this has proven to be unsustainable. As demand has plateaued, there now needs to be a move towards a responsible, sustainable growth trajectory.
Future business scenario planning should inform all hire decisions. When recruiting, it is essential to understand if that role will be continuously needed or if it is a project role that exists due to significant growth. Then hires can be made based on a more temporary nature.
You only need to look at the film industry to understand how this would work. Staff are commonly recruited on a fixed-term basis for big project deliveries as they know that they can’t commit to that level of sustained growth.
Responsible hiring in this way eliminates the excited reaction to growth and avoids difficult decisions further down the line.
How to handle layoffs
A level of compassion is needed when handling layoffs, especially at scale, as it can be a horrible place for both parties to be. The only way you can do this is by bringing in a sense of humanity rather than handling it in a robot-like way.
It is not easy in any regard; being compassionate opens the door to the employee’s emotions, which can be uncomfortable for both parties. Nevertheless, the best way for that individual to leave is to have the conversation with compassion and consider the organisation as one they’d like to return to, albeit in better circumstances. That is the real win.
This requires leadership development. The ability to have a compassionate conversation without worries of being reported or sued is not something that a leader would necessarily have learnt at any other time in their career. They certainly do not start their career with this knowledge; it must be developed over time.
It takes strength to deliver difficult conversations, to be eloquent about what is not working and what’s best for the business. Leaders must also remember that it is deeply personal to the individual. After all, we bring ourselves to work nowadays, and we take work home with us.
There is also the question of the financial implication of layoffs – often, the upside is short-term, and there is a drag on company performance over time due to the impact on customer service and employee engagement.
A company can support employees in gaining their next roles by offering interview training and cv support. This will positively affect the individual and reflect well on the business and employee engagement.
The scenario many of the big tech firms have found themselves in is an undesirable situation. However, it serves as a reflection period on how we can do things differently next time.