Recent layoffs by Meta, Twitter, Amazon, and Shopify were communicated to employees via email. In each case more than 1,000 individuals were fired. Meta laid off the most, with 11,000 workers let go. According to many internet commentators, the fact that the workers were laid off in such an impersonal manner made the firings worse.

It’s a viewpoint worth exploring.

Many pundits suggest that firing by email is “dehumanizing.” Instead, workers should be called or spoken to in person. OK. For the purposes of this blog, let’s say that each call or in-person meeting lasts fifteen minutes. In the case of Meta that works out to 2,750 hours of calls or meetings. The process would take many days if not weeks, during which time any employees not yet fired would be understandably nervous. Doesn’t sound particularly efficient, let alone considerate. If this same math is applied to firing “only” 1,000 employees, it will still take some time to speak with every impacted employee. The same nerve-wracking uncertainty would persist. Sounds like a poor approach.

According to other critics, managers who are changing someone’s life should have the “guts” to do so in person. For individual firings or small layoffs this point is hard to challenge. As noted above, however, the logistics of mass firings are different. So, one must ask, is holding a mass layoff meeting via Zoom the solution?  Would that be an acceptable demonstration of managerial “guts?”

One outraged writer began his commentary by stating unequivocally that email should never be used “to communicate a status change to an employee.” Curious. Would he consider a job offer to be an employment change communication?  I do. Most job offers and employment agreements are communicated via email/links or, heaven forbid, by Fedex/US Mail.  Email, apparently, is fine for hiring. Firing by email?  Not so much.

It has also been suggested that email shouldn’t be used for firings because it’s an outdated technology. To quote Suzanne Lucas in “Inc Magazine: “You’re putting something essential and time-sensitive into a format that people no longer use for time-sensitive information.” A text message would be better. I seldom text but I tend to agree.

The uncomfortable truth is: How we work and how we communicate are changing.

Remote and hybrid work have altered how employees interact. So has social media. The social mores and the logistics of firing workers on a large scale are evolving as well. Today, if you are an employee-at-will working for a large firm, you may be laid off by means of an email, a text, a voicemail, or by any other communication method in use.

Sadly, to expect something more personal is . . . as outdated as email.

Peter Dragone - Co-founder of Keurig.