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Zillow and OneTrust: how to support employees after a layoff

Jennifer Burke was on her way to Hawaii for her daughter’s wedding when Zillow followed through on her long-awaited layoff. She asked her manager to tell her the news by message in the car. You are one of the safest, replied his manager.

“I felt relieved, of course,” Burke said. “I was apprehensive. I felt sympathy for my colleagues who I knew were going to be fired.

But Burke also felt something else. The impostor syndrome set in. Why had she been spared instead of her colleagues? What if others were asking the same question? This feeling, mixed with the uncertainty surrounding possible future layoffs, led to a fit of emotional confusion. A kind of “survivor’s guilt”.

The layoffs have swept across the tech industry as companies rely on financial uncertainty and rumors of a recession. Taking care of laid-off employees is essential; companies like Carvana and Klarna have been criticized for negligence with Zoom mass layoff calls and minimal severance packages. But another demographic group of workers often goes under the radar: employees who get by. They are responsible for keeping the company together, taking over assignments from former colleagues, and maintaining morale in the event of a hiring or salary freeze. Whether or not managers listen to their concerns can make or break a company’s culture.

“To the extent that leadership can share what’s going on and provide that reassurance and psychological safety, the stronger a culture can come out of it,” said human resources adviser Jessica Yuen.

Stressed and overwhelmed

Security software company OneTrust laid off 25% of its staff in early June, citing a change in “capital markets sentiment”. The cuts have understandably led to more work and frustration among some of the remaining employees, two current OneTrust employees told Protocol. They were granted anonymity to protect against possible repercussions. OneTrust did not respond to Protocol’s questions in time for publication.

One employee said she was satisfied with communications from management, attended “ask me anything” sessions, and empathized with her co-workers. She’s busier, but it’s not unbearable. But the other employee Protocol spoke to said she was completely overwhelmed, working nearly 12-hour days and feeling increased pressure to perform as well as her laid-off teammates. She worries that her colleagues who have been laid off need the job more than she does, that they deserve to stay with her. Sometimes the stress seems “too big” and she finds it excruciating to focus on the tasks at hand, which leads to another vicious circle of impostor syndrome.

“I found myself sitting at my desk, not working,” she said. ” I am too stressed. I don’t know where to start. And then if I sat there wasting half a day, frozen and unable to work, then it comes down to, well, that other person probably deserved [their job] more than me.”

She still hasn’t received official notification of who was fired. LinkedIn and Glassdoor filled in the gaps. Sometimes she finds out someone has left while trying to reach them and receiving a bounce email. OneTrust is betting on employee resilience, she said, but it’s hard to cope when it doesn’t get the support it needs. The company has also implemented a hiring freeze, except for necessary replacements and scheduled raises on hiatus.

“We’re being asked to believe in the business,” she said. “Just have faith. It’s hard to do that.

OneTrust management is busy, she said, and they understand that. But she needs more communication and support to do her job effectively. Others feel the same way, she says, and might consider other options. But the prospect of leaving isn’t ideal either. “Do I stay because I know I probably made the cut and I’m just working 12 hours a day and hope I get rewarded for it someday?” she says. “Or am I going somewhere else? But it could be a company that decides it has to make that decision six months later. And I’m the new employee there.

Burke’s experience at Zillow was better, as she had known since October that the layoff was coming. She’s an assistant trustee, and with the closure of Zillow Offers, she knew there would be a significant drop in business. Zillow executives told employees that a significant portion of them would be laid off, but did not specify who or how many. To help employees prepare, they announced severance pay details and served as references for employees who decided to apply elsewhere. Burke received job offers but decided to stay. Zillow did not respond in time for publication.

“I think they’re doing a really good job of doing what they can to keep us all informed of our position,” Burke said. “But there are a lot of external factors that are really not under anyone’s control.”

When Burke was applying for jobs in the fall of 2021, the market was in his favor. Now it’s chaotic and uncertain. “What if the business doesn’t come fast enough and there are more layoffs?” said Burke. There is no guarantee that she would find a new job soon.

Still, Burke found solace in extensive, prior communication from Zillow executives. It made all the difference – she said almost everyone she knows who has been made redundant would come right back to Zillow if given the opportunity.

What managers should do

After a layoff, everyone is stressed. Employees are struck by the precariousness of their jobs. Leaders are in charge of the entire fate of the business, making sure the business stays afloat. You cannot promise every employee that their job is safe. But Yuen said leaders should make sure employees know they will be taken care of either way.

“It’s about psychological safety,” Yuen said. “You want them to know that if something were to happen, here’s the reasoning behind it. Treat employees like adults.

Managers may feel the need to shield employees from hard truths, but transparency is especially important during slow times, Yuen said. Yuen recommended having direct conversations with employees about job expectations and focusing on employee trust. Imposter syndrome could easily cause workers to jump ship, so there is a need to counteract this impulse.

“It’s a natural human tendency to ask what is my value, what is my place in this organization?” Yuen said. “If they are experiencing impostor syndrome, how can we build their trust in what they bring to the organization?”

Yuen encourages managers not to be afraid to let employees express their feelings and ask candid questions about the company. Leaving everyone to handle the layoff on their own could be devastating to company culture and productivity. Let your employees voice their concerns and ask questions.

The OneTrust employee wants executives to recognize that the situation is unsustainable. She wants to feel heard. “I can put my helmet on and get through the tough times,” she said. “But there is a lack of communication there. Those of us who remain go through a lot too.

After Burke discovered she had made the cut, she met a group of colleagues before her flight to her daughter’s wedding. Most were people who had avoided layoff. Over dinner, they exchanged their phone call experiences and the unsettling feelings they had left. Burke is still working on those feelings, but she’s hoping for the best.

“My number one hope is that the new business plan will be a big success and that I will continue to be part of Zillow for a very long time,” Burke said.

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