Should I give feedback to a company I'm being laid off from?
February 10, 2024 2:04 AM   Subscribe

I've just been laid off from an executive director position in tech that I've held for 7 years. I'm in a 4-week transition period where I'm still working and closing things out, and I am weighing whether I should be honest and open with execs about my feelings.

This is a very large company (40k+). I am very lucky in that I have a good salary and am getting an entire year of severance pay, so feel free to stop reading :-)

This was a merger-related layoff so it's "not about me" legally, but I'm the only person in my group who got laid off. Objectively, I am very competent technically, process-wise, and strategically so it came as a total shock. I have good deep and broad relationships with hundreds of people across divisions from developer to director to executive level. I have a solid strategy for my team that's been vetted and we've consistently executed, even through a complex merger. External partners love me (3 so far have said "so, are you coming to work for us?").

The main thing that's changed recently is that I have a new VP boss (~10 months) who I thought liked me, but who I now suspect is a big part of why I was let go. He's someone who operates at a surface level: He'll ask why we aren't at destination Z from position X, and when I explain that we started at A and have made it all the way to X, and talk about the blockers for getting to Z more quickly, it's like his eyes glaze over and he doesn't want to engage with the complexities. That would be fine if he just delegated to me and trusted my judgement, but I think he has not been relaying reality up the chain.

There are also a lot of process and organizational inefficiencies (ironically, I'm a process expert) that will be around after I'm gone. I'm worried about my team and the thousands of developers and others that we support and work with daily. Given that my boss doesn't "get it" despite endless conversations, demos, and PowerPoints, I worry that things will get worse for others.

My wife says that this place was never a good fit (I joined a small company that got bought, then the buyers got bought) because large public companies don't care about quality or true efficiency - they just hack off limbs blindly to meet each earnings report and damn the consequences. But it's really hard for me because I identify so strongly with work and pour my heart into every job I've ever had.

Next week I have 30 minutes with my boss' boss' boss, who I like a lot and who I once reported to. What should I say? Is it a bad idea to express concerns about my current VP? I really want closure and to know why this happened, but maybe that's impossible.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry this happened to you. I work in pharma and my company recently did layoffs and a few of the cuts were shocking - senior leaders with excellent technical skills, record of success, well-liked by others, and valuable institutional knowledge. Decisions were made by an external consulting company for what seems like purely financial reasons. I don't think you'll ever get a solid reason why you were laid off other than the fact that it saves the company money. Your VP may not have had anything to do with it. Personally, I wouldn't say mich of anything in the exit interview and would be tempted to cancel it. I would avoid saying anything about the current VP, Despite your concerns being valid, it won't change anything and might make you look vindictive. Focus your remaining time on supporting the people reporting to you as many of your duties will fall onto them. I'm sure you'll land on your feet in a great role elsewhere- but if possible I'd take a few months off to enjoy that severance!
posted by emd3737 at 2:24 AM on February 10 [17 favorites]

I wouldn't give them honest feedback: the risk is that any feedback you give them might result in them giving less-good references for you when you're applying for your next job.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 3:02 AM on February 10 [26 favorites]

I think there might be mileage in saying something - if you can think of a specific concrete action to recommend, that is feasible/reasonable for your boss's boss's boss to undertake at their level, and that you think might significantly remediate whatever situation they're heading into.

If you can't think of anything in that category then that's a good sign that there's nothing you can do and you're wiser to stick with platitudes.
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:17 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

I think being let go from a senior position strongly suggests that the vision they have for the organization is not one they want your input on at this time. Maintaining a warm relationship with the people who could ease your passage into the next thing, including the person you’re meeting with, seems like a better use of that half hour than getting in parting shots at the VP you didn’t see eye to eye with. That person could well be a problem, but the organization’s problems are not your problems now, and I think your challenge is to detach from them so you can move on.

Good luck finding the next thing you can pour your heart into! I hope you find a great fit soon.
posted by eirias at 4:06 AM on February 10 [66 favorites]

You're very unlikely to get any kind of closure or answers from this meeting. I'd keep it bland and focused on the future and on maintaining the personal relationship, myself. Though if specifically asked "what do you think of the VP?" I might offer a piece or two of feedback and judge how that goes over before deciding what else to say.
posted by Stacey at 4:41 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]

I would mention the problems without mentioning the name attached to the problems. If there's a way to do that, you've done your best by those you're leaving behind. Hopefully they get it. Do NOT expect them to give you an explanation of why this happened, though.

Enjoy the severance and I'm sure you'll land on your feet!
posted by kingdead at 4:41 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

I think being let go from a senior position strongly suggests that the vision they have for the organization is not one they want your input on at this time.

This. Absolutely accurate.
posted by phunniemee at 4:58 AM on February 10 [14 favorites]

Use the opportunity for light-hearted chat, next steps career building, suggestions on great ale houses to try, whatever you have in common. Build up the relationship you have, don't tear down the one you don't. If you leave this position with the gentle echo of your passing being one of "so long and thanks for all the fish" then when you encounter these people or their networks again they will remember you as someone who got shit done without stirring it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on February 10 [29 favorites]

Short answer to your question: As others have said, keep the exit interview short and perfunctory. Nothing you could say is going to change the path the company is now on.

And if you want to read more:
it's really hard for me because I identify so strongly with work and pour my heart into every job I've ever had

Sadly, most of us have an experience like you're going through now, where the universe reminds us that our job is never going to love us back. It's hard. But you are being given a gift, albeit in ugly wrapping paper delivered by people who don't appreciate you. You can use this time as an emotional reset of your relationship to work, if you'd like to explore another way to approach it.

(Also, a four-week offboarding for someone who's been laid off is just cruel and 100% for the company's benefit, and I hope you're doing the absolute minimum.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:04 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]

To add to the advice about keeping things positive - you’re in the bargaining stage of grief here. There’s nothing you can say in a half hour that will change the course of the company. I’m sorry but also - it’s okay. Focus forward, not backwards. Your team are adults and will find their ways. It’s time for you to find fresh opportunities for your great skills!
posted by warriorqueen at 6:32 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Should I give feedback to a company I'm being laid off from?

Let me stop you right there: No. There is nothing good that can come of it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:47 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]

I think being let go from a senior position strongly suggests that the vision they have for the organization is not one they want your input on at this time.

This says it very well. Fixing their dysfunctional processes is not your problem and is unlikely to meet with success in your exit interview. As an anecdote: someone where I work was quitting prior to likely being let go and he unloaded all his negative input in the exit interview. It caused some headache for the supervisor for a little while, like having to respond to emails and calls from senior leadership, but did not lead to any changes, because the organization was committed to the path it was on. It did seriously burn bridges, which I think was the employee's intention.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Don’t attend. If you have to attend, say nothing except banal platitudes. I link this article every time I see someone ask this question.
posted by caek at 7:14 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]

Baffled by all the responses here. What? You’re being let go. Unless it’ll affect references, tell them exactly what you think, politely if that’ll get the point across better (plus references). Give them a heads up over where you think they’re going, so they can’t say later they weren’t warned.
posted by Melismata at 7:15 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]

Work is often really a form of hierarchical dominance behaviour for human beings - who gets to tell whom what to do, and how much anyone gets of the substance we use to gate keep resources which is the primary way we indicate status in this society.

When your company was bought it went from being a company focused on producing to a company based on value extraction. As such, you had to go and so do all of your coworkers who will be focused on production. The best thing any coworker who cares about their product and their customers and their suppliers can do is to get out, or learn to live with performative work rather than actually getting useful stuff done.

Don't leave talking about the purpose of your work and the product the company made and efficiencies in how to produce it. The only thing they will hear is that you don't submit to their brand and you are insubordinate. Mentioning other people who do good work and will need support to continue it could put them next on the list for being axed. Your efforts to help them on your way out are likely to do more damage and will highlight social relationships that management will need to destroy in order to strengthen the dominance hierarchies.

Five years from now it is unlikely the company you worked for will even exist. Enough value will have been extracted that it will have gone under. Talking about protecting the quality of the product, when the goal of the purchasers is to extract as much value as they can before the customers realise they have removed quality and functionality is talking at cross purposes with management. They don't want to produce good widgets, they want to produce extremely cheap widgets and sell them for the same high price as the good ones they used to produce.

Of course when a company has pivoted to sabotaging the product in order to extract value they are extremely focused on brand reputation. So anything you say about degrading the product - missed deadlines, turning out things half finished, features that don't work, useless features that the clients don't need - will be seen as an attack on the brand. At some point in the last few weeks or months, the new company policy became to always talk like the product is wonderful and amazing and everything is going well, while putting less and less actual focus on getting a working product out and meeting the customer needs. You're supposed to meet deadlines by compromising quality and functionality. The purpose of the deadlines was to force you to find ways to compromise quality and functionality.

That new boss of yours needed to hear that you would get the product out in the time and budge they had allocated to it, and actual functionality would be faked. When he didn't hear that, you ended up on the chopping block. They will hear anything but praise and compliance as opposition and will sit there not listening not listening to you, while feeling utterly confirmed in the decision to get rid of you. You didn't cooperate? Out you go. You are saying things that will result in the customers and your coworkers realising that the product is being downgraded in order to cheat the customers. They need you out sooner, rather than later.

No one will really be listening at your exit interview, except for maybe if you warn them that if they fire Sheila all the systems will crash within two weeks. But if you give them warnings like this their priority will become finding a way to replace Sheila so they don't have to make any concessions to her in order to keep her. Mentioning Sheila will be recommending her for the list of people in the next round of lay offs. Sheila's coworkers or subordinates will be pressured to learn just enough of her job that the company can stay open and in production.

I am sorry this has happened to you and to the company you were invested in, but you have been bought by a company who will be making decisions based on paying the employees less and producing the product more cheaply. Very often they begin by firing or laying off the key people who get higher salaries because they are the most productive. No one working for your company has any future there - it's time to jump ship.

Instead of discussing your dreams and goals for the company at your exit interview, I think you need a grief councilor. Otherwise you will be looking for empathy from the person who made the decision to harm you and destroy the company. This is a huge dislocation and loss for you because of your loyalty and life investment. You have much to grieve and to be angry about. But because their focus is on dominance and value extraction, your grief and anger shows them what they are doing is working.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:19 AM on February 10 [27 favorites]

My response reading above the fold: NO.

My response reading below the fold: GOD, NO.

They are going to take any feedback from you as sour grapes. Especially about a newer VP— who probably was brought in to make decisions about the merger and whose role as the hatchet-person requires that kind of glazed-over high level approach you describe.

This will backfire on you when it’s time for references. And even if you don’t formally use these people as references, people love to talk, and you never know people’s relationships in the industry.

Also, they are not going to act on the feedback because they’re all hoping to survive the merger themselves.

Even the more neutral process topics aren’t going to come across well because it’s going to sound like “you’re all morons and I alone could have fixed this.” The most you can do here is make it about your OWN career there, like “this news has been difficult because I’m at the stage where I feel I could contribute so much more, like modernizing xyz.” However, at this point you’re just giving them free advice which you shouldn’t do—they decided they don’t need your expertise, so save it for someone who will pay for it! Also, they may have plans to adopt the other company’s processes anyway.

Staff reductions tend to happen in stages with mergers, and the people who are being let go now are probably getting the best packages. The cuts that happen 2 years from now, after people have set up the newly merged processes, they will treat as terminations for cause that have nothing to do with the merger, and those people won’t get anything.

I’m sorry this happened to you, it’s so jarring. It sounds like you will have other options! Go out on a basically positive note and save your energies for those other options.
posted by kapers at 8:55 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]

What do you want from this interview? This boss knows you, worked with you, probably likes you. They would be great for referrals, references and contacts. Criticising the company gets you nothing of value.

The feedback you should give, if you're going to give it, is that you think they'll miss you in your role because you were doing valuable process work that affected thousands of people. You don't even have to say that. You don't get more specific than that. You don't assign fault to anyone. They are no longer paying you to make the company better, they're paying you to hand off your responsibilities.

What you might more usefully do is ask if the boss has any thoughts on how to find opportunities.

Also, I got laid off about a year ago and I have a bit of advice. You have a year's salary in your pocket; you can take some time to yourself to decompress.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:01 AM on February 10

Just to build on what Jane the Brown said - your boss’s boss knows about this decision. After you leave, even if you’ve said your piece, your boss will have 5-10-20 meetings to reestablish their narrative.

Nothing you can say in half an hour or even a week will have an impact, because they’ve already decided this is the way forward. They didn’t let the VP go. And if you slam the VP and best case, the big boss asks the VP about it - the VP will spend his time destroying your credibility once you’re gone. It’s really not worth for the idea that some day they’ll…have a thought? Naw. Focus on the future.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:03 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

While I can definitely agree that complaining about someone isn't likely to be helpful, it's totally possible to frame everything you've mentioned in a positive way. Predicate that on the idea that your boss has a mysterious plan that is actually going well, but to which you just aren't privy, and really believe that, and I think you might be able to do some good in the world.

So, talk about how proud you are about how the team got to point X - be specific, be [sotto] dramatic - then talk about how valiantly every member worked to overcome obstacles to Z. Make a point of listing, for each member, the circumstances that made getting to Z impossible, while lauding their exceptional determination to try anyway. And be empathetic to VP Boss not having had an opportunity to see or report on this because _their_ schedule and relationships were constraints, or because they needed to focus on [non-petty-sounding functionality].

Do this in the driest, most objective way possible.

After all, assuming you have a solid point, it comes from true events. All you need to do is lay those out as concisely as possible, framed however works best in the moment. The framing is a choice - you can choose to be empathetic and non-blamey any time, although admittedly it's very hard sometimes. You can choose to focus, emotionally, on your affection for your team - and that can leave no room for animosity for anyone else.

But inside the frame is a scene. Describe the scene, and others will make their own evaluations based on the facts of the scene.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on February 10

You used to report to this person? You probably know a lot about their style then, and will be able to read them fairly well. I can see that making it tempting to ask a question or share a thought.

I'm still mostly on team Don't Say Anything, but if you do, here are two slightly contradictory things to consider.
- Be really clear what you want from it. Spraying negativity is pointless. Trying to get your favorite direct report a quarterly meeting with this skip-skip boss might be achievable, and if you want that to be your parting gift to them and/or the company, that could be a goal to attempt. (Getting a bit more info, carefully worded, about why this is happening might also be possible, but why would you want to rub salt into your own wounds by hearing their view of why they don't need you, and why would you want to portray yourself as clinging to the past instead of confidently embarking toward your future?)

- Anything you say, really think of it as a gift, something you're trying to say to help them, which also means saying it in a way they can hear. They won't be able to hear anything that verges on "you're making a mistake letting me go," because they've made a decision and have to live with it. But if you want to say "I know you want to get to Z. I really wish you success with this. Staff Member Bob is doing a great job pursuing the student market; I think there's a lot of potential there," they might give that a bit more attention than they otherwise would have. But then, why would you want to give free advice? Leave and let them pay you $300/hr as a consultant if they realize they want your viewpoint.

In short I think you should approach this meeting as you would with either an external mentor or someone you want to view you as a consultant that they'd want to hire. In both cases, it involves being confidently independent. I wouldn't be aloof; if you respected this person, I'd try to keep a good relationship with them. But they and/or the company are on a different path or have a different goal or vision, so I think "I wish you all the best with that, sincerely," might be the best message. (Unless you think their heart is in the wrong place and they're intentionally about to screw over a bunch of people you love to make a buck, in which case that's a whole different question.)

Good luck. You sound like a you'll be great asset for a company who is ready for your leadership. Unfortunately, these folks are heading off on another path for some reason, so don't give pearls to swine (not that they're pigs, but they may not recognize it as valuable for whatever reason).
posted by slidell at 11:08 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Feel free to reach out I am in a similar senior position for a much larger company. It is hard but they simply don’t care about you or they’d reach out. Company vision not including you is the corporate way of saying that. Nothing in 30 days is expected of you. I tried to help my replacement in a professional way and it was perceived in the worst light possible. Like it was here’s a bunch of procedural stuff to make your life easier.

It is a good time to get the company out of your headspace, breathe and not let. Prorate doublespeak make you go crazy. Just keep telling yourself the company simply doesn’t care about you. I’ve been told to let go and not care, that’s near impossible. If you view it from their perspective it is easier. Imagine you’re at a restaurant and order a cheeseburger then tell the waiter never mind I’d like a salad. That’s kind of how you are right now, not a huge heavy decision. I get it feels like the world is on your shoulders, but it isn’t.

Again feel free to reach out. A lot of this comes down to ambiguity in management positions and what you see your goals are. I used to think long-term make the company money or create value and treat employees like peers. It isn’t even as clear as making a 10-K look good on paper.

You likely have a great resume! Sell yourself! You advised stakeholders on technology implications of business decisions; guiding investment decisions with business capability! Run with that!
posted by geoff. at 3:21 PM on February 10

Darn autocorrect mangled myself up. From here on out everything the company says or does in your name is for them not you. This isn’t a last concert where you can blow their minds. Go out quietly. Best thing I did was find the best people I worked with and softly asked if I could compliment them and BCC/CC them to my “boss” or CEO. It was a simple gesture but they felt awesome about it.
posted by geoff. at 3:36 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]

In upper management positions, losing your job because somebody above you doesn't like you is common. It just happens. (source: I was a director in tech.)

If you accept it's one of the possible reasons, the question of "why?" might feel less important. Maybe they're folding your entire division into a different one and they don't need two directors. Maybe VP is bringing in someone from their previous job. Maybe VP doesn't like you. Maybe VP wants your job. These are ALL scenarios I've seen.

Of the scenarios above, some are in your control and some aren't. For example, if you had a lot of political capital built up, it would only save you from some of those situations some of the times.

Re: "warning" your grand-grand boss about VP*: I second what others have said: when you're going out the door, nobody cares about your opinions on how the business is run. This applies whether you quit or left involuntarily.

*assuming that you and your grand-grand boss are not friends that get drinks together often to gossip
posted by homodachi at 8:10 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Your wife is right. Your soon-to-be-ex team is not yours to worry about, and you've been stupidly cut by a big company that doesn't give a shit about you or, obviously, the work itself. Say whatever you want in the meeting, but you probably won't be given the opportunity to speak truthfully or sincerely. And even if you are, why would they bother to listen or act? It's about shareholder value, and nothing else.

Good luck on whatever comes next!
posted by goblinbox at 8:47 PM on February 10

What you do is be very positive with mild disappointment about things you won’t get to finish. I can’t imagine firing someone and then keeping them around for a month. But you work at a big company that’s a big deal in your industry and full of lots of people you’ll run into again somewhere else.

None of your issues or complaints and knowledge of company’s faults matters, nor does your opinion of anyone still employed there, do not share any of that.

Share everything you know about what you were working on, all the where bodies are buried stuff, and if asked all the things you never got a chance to fix or improve or deal with.

The only feedback on why you got fired will be when amid all the the positivity your giving you ask, do you have any feedback on what I’ve been working on and how it might have made more progress? And accept the, I have no idea answer.

Then, finish out your month and get on with your life. You leave everyone with the most positive impression you can cause you’ll run into them again. Nothing is ever gained by setting shit on fire or airing greviances no matter how awesome it feels to do such. Bitching about all those losers is what spouses and friends are there for. Good Luck!
posted by ixipkcams at 9:11 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]

Oh yes, and do go on about how much you loved working there, even if you didn’t. Tell them what they want to hear, not what you want to say. Pretty much good advice in most professional situations.
posted by ixipkcams at 9:24 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Sounds like my last six months. I would say nothing. In private you can express doubts about the future direction of the company. Move on to the next thing
posted by mdoar at 3:12 PM on February 11

The company values your input so greatly they've decided to stop paying you for it
posted by lescour at 6:21 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely no benefit to you in giving them feedback; there's only the risk that they don't like what you say.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:58 PM on February 11

There is already a lot of answers here...

I would only add this. Instead of considering whether you want to give feedback, consider what wonderful things could come out of that meeting for you. Could you invite this person to make an interesting introduction for you, to have the company increase your severance, to remember you favorably for a special skill so you can charge double when a consulting contract comes around?
posted by jander03 at 7:50 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

The company has made a commitment to your boss and it's unlikely they'll thank you for expressing concerns, even if you are absolutely correct. Use the time with this exec to come to any greater understanding of ways you could improve, and to network for your future. I suspect that in not very many years, you'll be happy you left. Your effort should be spent finding a place you'll love.
posted by theora55 at 11:42 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

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