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Puzzle of tech industry layoffs amid recovery

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In the first four weeks of this year, tech giants like Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and TikTok have collectively said goodbye to about 25,000 workers. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The tech industry is constantly changing, and one recurring theme is the waves of layoffs. This has led to a critical analysis of the impact of layoffs not only within tech but also across industries. Everyone's question is this: Are tech layoffs contagious, causing shockwaves to extend well beyond other industries?

Given the current situation, there has been a noticeable increase in tech layoffs recently, which has drawn attention. In the first four weeks of this year, tech giants like Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and TikTok have collectively said goodbye to about 25,000 workers. This is unexpected considering that consumer trust was rising, inflation had dropped from the previous year, and workforces at tech companies had mostly recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Executives, wielding the justification of a pandemic-induced hiring binge, high inflation, and weak consumer demand, had initiated mass layoffs in the recent past.

Read: Start-up closures leave trail of job losses in 2022

However, the rationale behind these decisions is now being questioned as the industry appears to have weathered those challenges. The question looms large: Why, in a seemingly recovered landscape, are tech companies still laying people off?

The effects of major workforce adjustments made by tech giants are felt widely because of the interconnectedness of industries in the modern economy. Certainly, to address the question of whether layoffs can spread from one industry to another, the answer is affirmative – it has already occurred.

Layoffs show a spreading trend within industries as well as between different sectors. Although it may not seem reasonable, there is a common belief at the foundation of the trend, which is, "If everyone else is downsizing, why aren't we?"

We can also see that many retailers are preemptively laying off staff, even as final demand remains uncertain. Layoffs like these can have a knock-on effect on supply chain dependencies, consumer spending patterns, and the general mood in the labour market.

While company executives believe that these actions are essential to their long-term survival and flexibility in the face of changing market conditions, other sectors may have reason for concern. The effects are felt throughout the complex network of related industries and are not just confined to the tech sector.

It's critical to consider whether the tech industry's layoff of thousands of workers in the first few weeks of 2024 is a sign of more significant economic difficulties or a calculated move by these companies to prepare themselves for a new wave of innovation.

Frequently regarded as an indicator of the overall state of the economy, the tech sector presents a warning sign that shouldn't be ignored. Every sector of the economy might have to prepare for changes in consumer behaviour, supply chain dynamics, and general market trust.

Viewing this landscape through the perspective of Human Resources (HR) becomes crucial as the ripple effects of tech layoffs spread throughout industries. HR professionals have the responsibility for managing the immediate effects of these workforce adjustments on employees as well as strategically positioning their organizations for the future.

So, the question is: How can HR be a key player in preventing layoffs from potentially spreading? First of all, it becomes imperative to promote an environment that is resilient and adaptive. HR needs to spearhead programmes that enable staff members to welcome ongoing education and adjust to change with assurance as industries prepare for possible changes.

Read: Factories warn of layoffs, closures on climbing costs

Additionally, HR departments should closely monitor industry trends, not only within the tech sector but across the broader job market. Understanding the dynamics of workforce adjustments in tech allows HR professionals to anticipate challenges and proactively plan for the evolving needs of their own organisations.

Communication turns into a key component of the HR plan. A sense of stability can be fostered during uncertain times and employee concerns can be reduced by HR leaders communicating in a transparent and compassionate manner.

Offering opportunities for reskilling and upskilling programmes can give workers the skills they need to stay adaptable in a changing labour market.

To sum up, the fallout from tech layoffs demands an HR approach that extends beyond short-term crisis management. It demands initiatives to build resilience, strategic insight, and a dedication to developing a workforce capable of navigating change's impact.

HR emerges as the guiding force, directing organisations toward stability, growth, and a workforce prepared for the future as industries brace for possible contagion effects.

The writer is the General Manager of Workforce Africa, an HR solutions provider.