McDonald’s layoffs are an evolution of other bad layoff tactics, this remote work expert claims

And sending in-person workers home to be laid-off remotely has mental health repercussions, argues one CEO.
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· 3 min read

Since the pandemic normalized widespread remote work, several companies have seemingly tripped and stumbled through various ways of executing layoffs. McDonald’s may have turned a page in the Long Book of Post-Pandemic Layoffs earlier this month when it sent workers home from its US corporate offices to lay some of them off remotely.

It’s a strategy that baffles Shane Spraggs, CEO of the remote-team building company Virtira. He expressed concern to HR Brew at the method’s seeming lack of consideration for employees’ mental health. “If you’ve had to wait for an important call, whether it be a job interview, job offer, or potentially being fired over the weekend…you don’t sleep, you stress about it. And it’s really bad for people’s emotional well-being,” he said.
As tech companies have encountered turbulence, they’ve laid off workers via Zoom and email. But the McDonald’s playbook seems to have pushed layoffs into less chartered territory that may become an increasing norm, explained Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of the recruitment firm TalenTrust. “Companies are going to continue to be colder and more inhuman and more robotic about job cuts” as they become more reliant on digital communication tools, she said.

HR teams can counteract that impersonal culture by keeping common courtesy top of mind when layoffs need to be carried out, Quinn Votaw said. “We’re dealing with another human being, so as much respect and dignity as you can muster would be great.”

What happened at McDonald’s. Before the layoffs, the burger chain sent an email to corporate employees notifying them that they’d be working from home from Monday to Wednesday during the week of April 3, the Wall Street Journal reported. Ultimately, “hundreds” of employees were let go as part of a broader corporate restructuring that had been in the works since January, according to reports. (McDonald’s did not immediately respond to an email request for comment from HR Brew.)

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The tactic of closing offices to conduct layoffs remotely was a new tactic for both Quinn Votaw and Spraggs. As hybrid models become entrenched, Spraggs argued that this kind of method could foreshadow future layoff strategies. “Sadly, people are going to try it out for a while and see what the impact is…it may be one of these one-off disasters that people learn from and becomes a cautionary tale.”

The McDonald’s method is an evolution of some of the more controversial force-reduction strategies seen in recent months, Quinn Votaw argued. “I can’t imagine sending people home to sit and wait for what’s coming next. I think it’s cruel.”

Do this, not that. Layoffs should be carried out in the most personable and sympathetic way possible, the experts said. But everyone doesn’t agree on what that is. Andy Challenger, SVP at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the Wall Street Journal that asking workers to stay home could be the compassionate choice: “It almost seems cruel to ask someone to commute into the office just to let them go,” he said.

One thing experts do agree on is that there needs to be clarity in delivering the news, to ward off confusion. “For any mass layoff, the best case is to get them all in a room together and talk to them in-person,” Spraggs said.

Quinn Votaw added that companies should equip managers with the right skills to compassionately impart layoff directives. “If your company could take the time to train their field managers, even in a multibillion-dollar organization, it would go so much farther to [instill] grace and dignity in the separations.”—SB

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