As tech layoffs shock younger workers, older generation sees familiar territory

Layoffs in the technology industry have become a big problem across the country.

Employers, who have expanded significantly in recent years, have quickly battened down their hatches, hoping to weather an economic downturn driven by the end of cheap money and record inflation the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.

Tripp Mickle, a tech reporter for The New York Times, writes that it was a major awakening moment for a generation of workers who never experienced a cyclical economic crisis. Not so good for older people. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Layoffs.fyi reports that nearly 200,000 tech employees have been laid off since the start of 2022, with 50,000 of them in recent months. But not everyone, as you noticed, experiences this nightmare in the same way. Could you tell us a little more about the generational split here?

Tripp Mickle: Yes, it’s exciting. If you pick up the phone like I did and get in touch with people from, say, Gen X who were in the early 90s/early 2000s, they came into the tech sector when it was very hot – a place to be and then fell into the dot-com collapse. Many of them were fired 1 to 3 times over several years. And their outlook on work and their careers were really shaped by the experience—so much so that I spoke to this guy, Brian Pulliam, who checks his intuition every year and says, “If I get fired this year, what am I going to do?”

And it was really based on that experience many years ago, whereas many Millennials and many Gen Zers entered the tech industry during this decade-long boom that started around 2010 when companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google came out. to the forefront of the global economy. . And they saw technology as an industry immune to kickbacks. They found something else. They just learned about it later in their careers than Gen Xers.

What does this mean in practical terms? If you didn’t expect layoffs, you’re less likely to have insurance, or at least not think about “what if I get fired within the next year,” as you used to say in your old age. worker thought?

Right. I mean, I think it just makes them rethink their assumptions about the tech industry. You know, a lot of these companies were selling lifestyles, not just careers. These were workplaces where you could wash your clothes. You can get free coffee at a really high end coffee shop. And many of these companies still have tons of cash. So when they make these cuts, it makes people recognize that maybe the place where I work won’t be the caretaker that I assumed when I walked in the door.

You know, you think of some of these companies – Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple – which, for their part, have huge cash reserves. What about the expectations of younger workers versus older workers when it comes to how these reserves are spent?

Yes, I mean that cash reserves are what investors see as what they are entitled to. I mean they are stakeholders in the company. It is they who believe that this money should return to them, whether in the form of a ransom or dividends. And this is what can create a gap between what the workers say and what the shareholders assume and what is actually the reality of the situation. And I think that’s what prompted some workers to look at cash and say, “Wait, why are we cutting staff? We have a lot of money in the bank.” But that’s not how companies usually operate.

We can say that young workers adapt better. I mean, they know more about the gig economy, ways to make ends meet, they have – at least from a traditional point of view – fewer obligations than older workers who are more likely to have a home for which they pay, and, of course, the family. obligations and all. How does it feel from generation to generation?

Well, that’s exciting. You’re right. They’re more adaptable, but they’re also in a very adaptable economy, because if you strip the numbers and go beyond the headlines and layoff noise, there’s actually still a lot of hiring in the tech industry collectively. And so the average worker finds a new job, something like three months after being laid off – many of them are still in the technology sector.

There are also plenty of opportunities within more traditional industries, whether that be finance, healthcare, or even government. They all need tech workers, and they couldn’t always hire those people because of how much tech companies pay. It’s hard to be competitive and now they’re finding an opportunity to bring some of these tech workers into their industry to help their business.

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