When even top performers and diligent employees get laid off in a downturn, is it worth going above and beyond for your company?

When even top performers and diligent employees get laid off in a downturn, is it worth going above and beyond for your company?
Google parent Alphabet this month said it would cut 12,000 workers.Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Recent mass layoffs at big tech companies show that even capable hard workers can lose their jobs.
  • This raises questions about whether loyal employees are wasting their effort.

The standard career advice in an economic downturn is to make yourself indispensable at work.

The implicit assumption is that your employer would never dare fire its most diligent go-to person.

Try telling that to Josh, who was head of communications for a youth education charity in the UK for 12 years, when he found out before Christmas that he was going to be made redundant.

Complimentary Tech Event
Transform talent with learning that works
Capability development is critical for businesses who want to push the envelope of innovation.Discover how business leaders are strategizing around building talent capabilities and empowering employee transformation.Know More

The charity was getting rid of his role due to structural changes, and said he could interview for a more junior position or take a settlement. There was no guarantee that he'd get the job, so after negotiations, he was eventually made redundant.

Insider has changed Josh's name to protect him from retaliation, but has verified his identity and workplace through links and screenshots.


Josh said the decision had "shocked" him, pointing to the press coverage he'd secured, his loyalty, and exceeding KPIs.

"I actually felt a bit stupid, all the things I had done, had sacrificed, had initiated off my own back, it felt devalued," he said.

As a potential recession looms, nearly 40% of US workers are "are nervous about being laid off," according to a LinkedIn survey of more than 2,000 US employees conducted in December. And the fact is, sometimes even good, hard-working employees get the ax.

Reports suggest that some of the 12,000 staff cut at Google included both high performers and people in managerial positions making seven figures, for example. And it's highly likely that many of the employees recently laid off from other big firms, including Amazon and Meta, were also dedicated and loyal to their companies.

"If a company is on the brink of financial distress, then of course, anybody could be let go at some point," said Aurelie Cnop, affiliate professor of management at ESCP Business School. "Sometimes a company may discard a specific unit, and in this regard, whether you are the best performer or not, you have to go."


Amid mass layoffs, Cnop said that employees need to shift their perspective about work. Here's what she suggests.

Have a higher calling

Trends like "quiet quitting", loosely defined as workers only doing what's required of their role, have emerged because employees are tired of going above and beyond for their companies without commensurate reward.

Cnop said that this is "transactional," and that people should "work for a calling," with a purpose and mission beyond their company.

"Having a calling is a great place to be because you get meaning from your job; your job is increasingly rewarding, and you are automatically inclined to go over and beyond," she said.

It also eases some of the sting of structural layoffs, because you won't be so attached to a singular company.


Zoe Mallett was head of culture and happiness at a travel brand when she was laid off at the end of August last year. Insider has verified Mallett's story with documentation.

Mallett said the layoff came at the right time, because it was the opportunity she needed to start her own business. She had been at the company for four years, and didn't regret the hard work because she was passionate about her role.

"I knew that I was going to be launching my own company in the future, so it was really important to me that I made a good name for myself," she said.

The hard work paid off essentially because having the "respect" of senior leadership meant they supported her business ventures and connected her with big brands.

Mallett said she "didn't feel bitter," about being laid off and that people who do have a misplaced sense of loyalty because they are too "attached to the mission of a business."


She added: "We should never attach ourselves to a job title, we should never attach ourselves to one company in particular. We have to find out what the mission is, what my calling is. Then no matter where you go, it doesn't matter if you get fired, doesn't matter if you get let go, the company closes down, you still know what your overall mission is."

Set boundaries at work

Although having a higher purpose helps build resilience against like layoffs, it can also "make you vulnerable to exploitation," Cnop explained.

Having an altruistic relationship with work "pushes you to sacrifice and go over and beyond," at the price of your well-being sometimes.

She said that employees who go above and beyond tend to "burn out or feel exploited in the end" because they might not be rewarded for their hard work, or even get fired.

Cnop suggests having boundaries at work to protect yourself, by defining what's important to you in your personal life and setting aside time for that. If that time cuts into your work, then speak to your manager to come to a compromise.


A version of this story published on November 18, 2022.