In recent times, TikTok has become a source of inspiration for various workplace trends. Influencers on the platform have introduced novel themes, such as “bare minimum Mondays,” “acting your wage,” “quiet quitting,” and “rage applying.” A notable trend that has emerged involves employees documenting their layoffs on this popular social media platform.
This week, the spotlight fell on Brittany Pietsch, a mid-market account executive at Cloudflare, a prominent Internet infrastructure provider known for offering a range of security, performance, and reliability services for websites and applications. Pietsch’s video documenting her termination went viral, shedding light on the delicate nature of employee dismissals.
Anticipating her dismissal, Pietsch had prior knowledge of the situation, as her “work bff” had received the news 30 minutes before her scheduled meeting. During the video call, a member of the human resources team and another unidentified individual joined Pietsch.
The unidentified person quickly delved into the purpose of the call, stating, “We have an important meeting today. We finished our evaluations of the 2023 performance. This is where you have not met Cloudflare expectations for performance. We have decided to part ways with you.”
Challenging the Assessment and Questioning Managerial Absence
Pietsch promptly interjected to assert herself and challenge the assertions made by the company representatives. “So, I started on August 25th. I’ve been on a three-month ramp, and then it was three weeks of December and then a week of Christmas, and then here we are. I have had the highest activity amongst my team,” she explained, aiming to highlight her contributions.
Expressing her disagreement with the company’s assessment that her termination was based on performance, Pietsch questioned the absence of her manager from the meeting. She emphasized that the two individuals on the call were not her direct managers or supervisors, stating, “We have never met.”
Furthermore, she brought attention to the positive feedback she had received during her one-on-one interactions with her manager, emphasizing that he consistently praised her performance. This raised questions about the inconsistency in the feedback provided by her immediate supervisor and the decision-makers in the termination process.
Seeking Clarity on Termination Justification and Expressing Frustration with Lack of Transparency
Despite Pietsch’s concerns, she received reassurance that her termination was not an isolated incident but rather part of a “collective calibration for Cloudflare.” However, when pressed for specific metrics justifying her dismissal based on performance, the company representatives were unable to provide any concrete details at that moment. The lack of clear and specific performance metrics added another layer of uncertainty to the termination decision.
Challenging the corporate language, buzzwords, and vague statements, Pietsch directly inquired, “Is my termination without cause?” She accused the Cloudflare personnel of disrupting the lives of her colleagues without providing any clear explanation, labeling it a “slap in the face.” This pushback reflected her frustration and disbelief in the lack of transparency surrounding the decision to terminate her employment.
Before her termination, Pietsch asserted that she had neither received any negative feedback nor put on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Typically, companies utilize PIPs to identify deficiencies and provide struggling employees with specific objectives and goals to meet for improvement.
Unresolved Details and Frustration Over Lack of Transparency
In response to Pietsch’s inquiries about the lack of feedback and performance improvement plans, the Cloudflare executive stated, “From a process perspective, your questions are valid. This isn’t going to be the forum and situation where we will be able to go into the detail.”
Pietsch expressed her frustration, noting, “But then, when will it be addressed? If it’s not done correctly when I’m being terminated, it certainly won’t happen afterward when I’m no longer part of the company.”
The conversation concluded with the HR professional stating that they would “circle back,” leaving the details of Pietsch’s termination unresolved. This lack of clarity further contributed to the employee’s sense of bewilderment and frustration surrounding the termination process.
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What Should Have Happened
According to Valerie Vadala, an experienced global talent acquisition leader with executive roles at prominent firms such as Wells Fargo, Shutterstock, Invesco, OppenheimerFunds, Credit Suisse, and Lehman Brothers, there were several missteps in the termination process of Brittany Pietsch. One of the key issues highlighted by Vadala was the absence of Pietsch’s manager during the termination meeting.
Vadala, who has experienced the challenging task of laying off team members herself, emphasized the importance of leadership presence during such situations. She stated that it is a sign of leadership to be personally present during layoffs, acknowledging the personal impact it has on the employee. Making the termination a cold and transactional process denies the reality of the significant impact on the individual’s career trajectory.
Furthermore, Vadala criticized the decision to make Pietsch’s termination performance-based during what appeared to be a companywide layoff. She argued that when a business conducts layoffs, it is usually an indication of overall company performance issues, not individual employee shortcomings. Turning the focus onto the employee at that moment is considered cruel and unfair, especially given the apparent lack of truth in Pietsch’s case.
Addressing the Call for Advance Notice and Cloudflare’s Official Response
Vadala, drawing on her extensive experience in human resources and talent acquisition, expressed a preference for companies to provide some level of advance notice to employees before a potential layoff. This approach, while potentially uncomfortable for employers, allows employees to prepare for the possibility and explore alternative opportunities.
In response to the incident, a Cloudflare spokesperson stated that the company did not conduct layoffs and is not engaged in a reduction of force. The spokesperson emphasized that decisions to part ways with employees are based on a review of their ability to meet measurable performance targets.
The spokesperson also mentioned that Cloudflare regularly reviews team members’ performance and makes decisions accordingly, asserting that there is nothing unique about the review process or the number of employees let go after performance reviews in the quarter.