This Is the Biggest Layoff in History

The cardboard boxes alone could fill a quarry
This Is the Biggest Layoff in History

In the business world, layoffs are the great boogeyman around the corner. Having been through them twice, I can see why. There isnt an office worker on the plane whose heart rate doesnt spike seeing an unscheduled all-hands pop up on their work calendar. They also seem to be the agreed-upon fat-cat method for pruning a workforce these days. It almost feels like they’ve taken the pole position in describing a firing, too — partly for legal, unemployment-receiving reasons, but also because of a change in vibes. Someone getting “fired” has the air of a holiday party gone wrong or a desk-bound bottle of Jack Daniels.

When did this all happen? Vox has an excellent investigation on the unwelcome reintroduction of the mass layoff. According to historian Louis Hyman, it had fallen out of favor after World War II, but reared its ugly head in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, it was a full-time, haunting presence in the average office workers mind. They also get into the idea that — surprise, surprise — an environment that exists constantly with an undercurrent of panic that your life could suddenly be forfeit doesnt produce a free, happy workforce. In short, I think we all know were not getting a gold watch in our 60s anymore.

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On the bright side, numbers are up!

So, in the interest of exposure therapy, lets flip the bed and stare the monster in the eyes, and see just how bad things could be. What are the largest layoffs in history? The all-time record for corporate clearcutting belongs to beige icon IBM. In July 1993, IBM laid off 60,000 people. It was especially a shock to stalwart IBM employees, since the company had never engaged in layoffs before. In fact, they were a bit of an icon for their positive treatment of their workforce, down to the classic company-branded Rolexes for 25-year employees. But as the 1990s came and PCs took over, it was a bad time to be in the room-sized computer business. They posted an $8 billion loss in 1993, and brought in outside help to run the company. A corporate hitman with an unbeaten daily body count of 60k named Louis Gerstner, who, according to a news article from 1994, was “upbeat … despite layoffs.” Well, thats a relief.

If you need a little sugar with all this medicine, dont worry: Given the growth of the gig economy, itll be much harder to lay anyone off when theyre all at-will employees and contractors that never technically worked anywhere in the first place!

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