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A Verily Bad Communication Decision

This week in Pedersen's POV, our senior editor weighs in on Verily's handling of its recent layoffs.

Amanda Pedersen

January 23, 2023

3 Min Read
Pedersen's POV quote about recent Verily layoff

Imagine getting an email warning you of another email that would tell you whether you still had a job. If you work at Verily (or did up until a couple weeks ago) you don’t have to imagine it – you lived it.

“Ghosting goes both ways, apparently,” one person impacted by the recent Verily layoff, told me. For obvious reasons, they asked to remain anonymous.

Naturally, not every employee impacted by the layoff was at their computer when the email hit their inbox. The person I spoke with said a member of their team, who works remotely on the East Coast, was out to lunch when the emails were sent. They came back from lunch to find they had been locked out of their computer system.

“People found out every way in the book, if you talk to 10 people, you’ll probably hear 10 wildly different stories,” the person I spoke with said.

And what about the people still employed at Verily who received the first email and sat anxiously awaiting the second. One such person posted on Blind, an anonymous professional networking app, that their “not impacted” email was delayed by at least 30 minutes. While that might not seem like a long time, it must have felt like an eternity to someone waiting to find out if they still had a job.

Layoffs are part of business, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean they have to be dehumanizing.

Verily, one of Google’s sister companies operating within Alphabet’s “other bets” category, has a stellar reputation. Employees proudly refer to themselves as “Veeps” and from everything I’ve heard and read, Verily has a great corporate culture full of colleagues who support one another and are genuinely trying to make the world a better place.

That’s what surprised me so much about the deliberate decision – and it was deliberate, according to new CEO Stephen Gillett – to send an impersonal form email to employees impacted by the layoff.

Choosing efficiency over compassion is something I would expect from Amazon or Meta (Facebook), both of which routinely show up on lists of the world’s worst companies to work for.

I was equally surprised at how Google handled its layoffs last week. Employees there found out they were laid off when they scanned their badge at the door and got a red light instead of green.

The former Verily employee I spoke with acknowledged the company’s need to protect information security and even physical security. They previously worked at a well-known online retailer that went through a round of layoffs right before the COVID-19 pandemic. That company did choose to bring everyone impacted by the layoff together in a large conference room to notify them and hand out separation papers.

“Well, that was a disaster because now all these former employees were just running around the building. Think about the staff they would have needed to bring in – you almost would have needed to bring in a police force to lay off 1,000 people at once,” they said. “…The email thing is kind of cold, but I get it, I understand very well information security and physical security.”

But the recent Verily layoff was reported to impact about 240 people. So, how hard would it have been, really, to take the time to tell those people in person or even on a video or phone call, that their position was being cut?

Pedersen's POV publishes every Monday. You may reach her at [email protected] (please put “POV” in the subject line).

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pedersen

Amanda Pedersen is a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist with a passion for helping medical device professionals connect the dots between the medtech news of the day and the bigger picture. She has been covering the medtech industry since 2006.

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