White man with brown hair and beard, sitting on a brown couch with his hand over his face in a distressed manner.

We should be honest about the mental health impacts of layoffs

In this article about the direct connection between the financial stress young workers find themselves in and poor mental health, I found this nugget, which our industry needs to pay specific attention to:

One 2020 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology considered the link between financial strain and suicide, concluding: “The finding that the relative odds of attempting suicide was 10 times higher when comparing respondents who lost a job with those stably employed is especially germane given that the U.S. unemployment rate recently reached its highest level in decades.”

The unemployment rate in 2024 isn’t what it was in 2020, but mass layoffs across the tech industry are still very much a thing.

Every person you lay off from your business is ten times more likely to try and take their own life.

I don’t think senior executives think in those terms. I suspect many are thinking about juicing the bottom line, getting a little stock price bump, maybe making things more efficient, etc. I think large investors think about what is best for their stock values. That’s why CEOs announce layoffs of 10% of the workforce and are rewarded with $100 million bonuses.

In any sane world, a CEO who made such bad decisions that they were forced to lay off 10% of the company would not be getting bonuses. They’d be lucky to be around still to try and improve things. This is not a sane world, however. This is a world where layoffs aren’t happening because the company is losing money and can’t afford to keep everyone on. These companies make billions of dollars in profit and use layoffs to make the markets happy.

They do not concern themselves with lives thrown into disarray, uncertainty, stress, and poor health outcomes. They are doing what other businesses do because they need to be profitable and dominate the market, growing at astronomical rates. Just making a sustainable profit each year is nowhere near acceptable. So, they throw human capital out the window in sacrifice to valuations and stock prices.

All the while, these same CEOs are making public appearances, talking about how much their culture is like a family and how much they care about employees.

No, you don’t actively harm people you care about in ways that make it ten times more likely to attempt suicide and get to make that claim.

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