Meta and Salesforce are looking to re-hire some workers they just laid off. It's putting those people in an awkward spot.

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Meta and Salesforce are looking to re-hire some workers they just laid off. It's putting those people in an awkward spot.
Companies that only months ago were laying off workers are now trying to hire some back. For workers, there can be a lot to consider.sorbetto/Getty Images
  • Some Big Tech companies that early this year were cutting workers now want some of them back.
  • They are ramping up hiring in hot areas like artificial intelligence.
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It's not the call you'd expect to get: The company that laid you off wants you back.

Do you go? It's a question that many of us might think we know the answer to: Hell, no! Yet, for some workers, the calculus is more complex.

Companies like Meta, the parent of Facebook, and Salesforce are bringing back some of the workers they let go. Big Tech is hungry for people with skills in areas such as artificial intelligence. Yet, like romantic breakups, whether one-time employees agree to try again will have a lot to do with how things ended.

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Companies that handled layoffs poorly are likely to have a harder time convincing ex workers to go back, Sandra Sucher, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School who's studied layoffs, said. In some cases where the layoffs were conducted reasonably well, a return might be something former workers would consider.

"If you want me back, you value me," Sucher told Insider. Still, former workers will want to know how they can rebuild their careers at an organization, she said. "What is my path going forward? Not just for right now."

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We want you back

The renewed demand is an about-face from the start of the year, when many Silicon Valley giants were culling staffers after saying they'd taken on too many people during the pandemic. So far this year, tech companies have slashed about 350,000 workers, according to Trueup.io., the tech jobs site. But the cuts peaked in January.

Whether to return is a question some former Salesforce workers are likely asking. The company plans to hire some 3,000 employees after cutting 10% of its workforce at the start of the year. Salesforce told Bloomberg it expects to hire in areas like sales, engineering, and data cloud product teams — and said the new workers will help grow the company's AI business to draw further investments.

CEO Marc Benioff is calling on former workers who landed elsewhere, not just those who might have been laid off, to consider coming back. Salesforce recently held an event to court alums where it handed out stuffed toys with "boomerang" shirts to about 50 former execs.

But for the workers who were laid off — and who didn't leave to take another job — there might still be some hard feelings over how Salesforce handled the separations. Some workers criticized how the company communicated the cuts. The layoffs also seemed to fly in the face of the culture the cloud software company had built. Salesforce execs, and Benioff in particular, have over the years encouraged workers to view their colleagues and the company itself as "Ohana," a Hawaiian term referring to family.

Earlier this year, the company — under pressure from activist investors to boost growth and margins — said it would step up its focus on profitability and efficiency. The implication was that focus would trump the company's "Ohana" philosophy.

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Things to ask yourself before you return

Sucher said for some workers, the fact that the company knows you — and you know it — could mean it's worth considering a return.

She said workers considering returning to a former employer might ask themselves questions such as: Why was I laid off? What's changed that you need me now? Why should I trust you again?

The decisions, in many cases, might not be easy. For some workers, there will be difficulty rebuilding the level of trust they once had.

"There'll be a part of me that is kind of looking at the organization and not trusting it in some very fundamental way," Sucher said.

One Reddit user, in late July, asked for advice on whether to return to a former employer that had laid the person off only to turn around weeks later and offer a management position in a different division.

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The person, who'd already started another, less-lucrative job, faced a dilemma: "The company laid me off not too long ago so I obviously have reservations," the user wrote. The advice varied to return but keep looking, don't return, or demand more pay to return.

Another user wrote about getting a call from a department head who'd both hired and laid off this person asking if there was any interest in returning. "This was honestly the last thing I expected," the person wrote.

Workers who do go back are likely to remain guarded

Of course, this hot-cold approach to workers isn't new for those in industries like hospitality. At the onset of the pandemic, for example, many restaurant workers got laid off. When lockdowns eased, employers scrambled to fill open roles because those workers wanted better working conditions.

Now it's tech workers' turn. Some might demand better pay to go back, while others could be accustomed to the idea that there's little they could do to protect against sizable job cuts. Job security will remain a visible consideration though: On Trueup.io, alongside job listings for high-profile companies like Amazon and Meta, is a number showing how many days it's been since there have been layoffs at the employer.

It's possible that strong demand will pull some workers back. Broadly, there is robust appetite for people with AI skills. On LinkedIn, the number of global English-language job postings that mention artificial intelligence technologies is up 21 times from November 2022, when ChatGPT debuted, a LinkedIn spokesperson said in an email to Insider.

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Sucher said those workers who do decide to give it another go with a former employer are likely going to want to know what a company's strategy is so that it doesn't find itself once again cutting staff.

She said, ultimately, those who do return after layoff will likely view the organization differently. "This has lasting effects on how people feel about security," Sucher said. "It destabilizes their assumption that if I do a good job, I get to keep my job."

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