TikTok is known for “Get Ready With Me” videos, where influencers talk to the camera while putting on makeup or doing their hair. But there’s a new TikTok trend sweeping the internet: “Get Laid Off With Me.”
These videos — where employees film themselves getting fired or laid off — have gone viral more than once. In the age of TikTok, conducting these meetings the wrong way can lead to heavy backlash and real consequences for the business.
And, despite multiple headlines about layoffs gone wrong, it seems that employers are still mishandling layoffs and termination meetings. Here’s what HR can learn to avoid being the kind of employer that goes viral for all the wrong reasons.
Cloudflare’s many mishaps
The most recent example of a termination meeting gone wrong is the IT company Cloudflare and its then-employee Brittany Pietsch.
In the video, Pietsch sets up her camera before joining a Zoom call in which she is terminated. Although she is under the impression this was a layoff, the company later clarified that Pietsch was one of 40 sales employees fired that quarter based on performance.
In the video, Pietsch asks repeatedly why she’s being let go and is given little detail, other than “not [meeting] Cloudflare expectations for performance,” according to one of the HR reps on the call. Pietsch says this is the first she’s heard about poor performance — in fact, she says she’s continuously received positive feedback and was among the highest performers on her team.
What really captured the internet’s attention, though, was the lack of empathy and preparedness of those conducting the meeting. After asking for more details on the performance metrics she didn’t meet, the HR rep says, “We’re not able to go to specifics, and we won’t.”
Pietsch also points out that she has never met the meeting conductors before this and at one point asks, “Do you guys even know who you’re talking to each day?”
In response to the backlash, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince took to X to make a statement. In part, he wrote, “Managers should always be involved. HR should be involved, but it shouldn’t be outsourced to them. No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren’t performing.”
But in Pietsch’s case, that’s exactly what happened.
What HR can learn from viral layoffs
There are a few takeaways in the latest layoff controversy – and the larger trend of employees filming their layoff experiences – that HR can learn from.
Lesson 1: Remember the human behind the screen
Whether you’re laying someone off or terminating them based on poor performance, the message still stands: There are real people behind the screens who are losing their job, their day-to-day routine, and their primary source of income. This is just one meeting of many for the leaders, yet it’s a life-changing event for the person being terminated.
When planning these meetings, leaders should think about how the conversation will come across from the perspective of the employee. “Messages like this are never easy to deliver, but HR and all leadership should be thinking about a message in the context of a human being on the other end of the line, recorded or not,” says Andrea Lagan, COO of the performance enablement platform Betterworks.
Plus, when you look at the situation from the employee’s perspective, you may be able to anticipate and prepare for the types of questions that employees may have to avoid being caught off guard during the meeting.
Lesson 2: Act as if the world is watching
You can’t control whether an employee has their camera rolling behind the computer screen. So HR is left with one choice: Handle all layoffs and termination meetings like the world is watching.
“There’s a saying that came from Thomas Jefferson, well before the days of TikTok and IG reels: ‘Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching,'” says Lagan. “This holds true today more than ever.”
When you think about any difficult conversation from the perspective that the world is watching, you might see things differently. If those difficult conversations were posted online, would they garner praise or criticism?
Although the negative interactions are often the ones that go viral, there are many companies that make headlines for handling these situations with empathy and compassion.
For example, in 2020, Airbnb laid off about 25% of its workforce. The move made headlines as an example of a layoff announcement done right. Specifically, the announcement was made with compassion and respect, the CEO was transparent with how and why cuts were being made, and even made an alumni directory to help departing employees find new roles.
Lesson 3: Be proactive in performance management
One of the biggest criticisms of the Cloudflare meeting was the lack of detail and explanation for the termination, despite Pietsch repeatedly asking for examples of metrics she did not meet.
“No employee should be surprised by their layoff,” says Doug Dennerline, CEO of Betterworks. “Moving from yearly performance evaluations to a performance enablement approach — a proactive and ongoing process that includes regular discussions between managers and employees and meaningful goal-setting — provides employees with the clarity necessary to understand both how they are being evaluated and how they are performing.”
“This kind of transparent process allows employees to refine their performance and pinpoint the tasks and behaviors that make a true difference to their team and the organization,” says Dennerline. “By implementing an approach to performance management that provides employees with this insight, they can recognize when they’re not meeting performance standards, seize the opportunity to make adjustments accordingly, or, at the very least, not be caught by total surprise by a layoff.”