If you've ever been at a company during layoffs, you likely know from experience that they're no fun for anyone. Getting laid off sucks the most. Being part of a smaller team with the same amount of work after your coworkers have been let go also sucks. And being the one doing all the laying off doesn't look like too much fun either.
So recently, Braden Wallake, CEO of the B2B sales and marketing firm HyperSocial, made a post on LinkedIn about his experience with having to let a couple of employees go. The post quickly made him the internet's main character for a day and stirred up a lot of conversation.
He started the post by saying, "This will be the most vulnerable thing I'll ever share. I've gone back and forth whether to post this or not. We just had to layoff a few of our employees. I've seen a lot of layoffs over the last few weeks on LinkedIn. Most of those are due to the economy, or whatever other reason. Ours? My fault."
He went on to discuss what a difficult choice this was and how he loves his employees, writing, "I just want people to see that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn't care when he/she have to lay people off."
But the part of the post that really got people talking was this selfie:
The post has racked up thousands of comments and stirred up a lot of debate. On one side, people saw the post as attention-seeking and performative, lacking in an actual apology, and centering himself instead of focusing on the employees who were just let go. In a word: cringe.
One commenter wrote, "Yikes. I was just laid off — along with many others. If my CEO sent this I'd probably lose my mind. You're crying? I'm crying. We're crying. You still have your job. Imagine if we all posted pictures of US crying? We'd never get hired, because we are forced to be RESILIENT in our industries."
But other commenters were more sympathetic to where Braden is coming from. One wrote, "When I see this post, I see a guy who is literally just trying his best. If you've ever had to lay someone off it really sucks. This guy cares about his employees — he decided to process some of this online. Could he have tagged the employees and said how great they were — sure, but did he expect this post to blow up like this? Probably not."
The post has even made its way to Twitter, where it's being widely criticized as the epitome of LinkedIn Cringe™️.
Since the post went viral, Braden has been actively responding to questions and gotten permission from a former employee to share their information in the thread in hopes of connecting them with new opportunities.
Braden told BuzzFeed that he had other business owners in mind when he made the post. "I have the title of CEO but I'm also a small business owner. And I think that a lot of other small business owners, a lot of other CEOs like myself, have had to do something like this and have felt alone in the entire thing. Not all CEOs that are out there are these profit-hungry, 'buying their fourth mansion in Mexico' types."
"If I can help one other business owner, one other CEO, to not feel that they're alone in this journey, and they can feel support by seeing somebody else do it. That was the point of the post."
He also said that he was very surprised by how quickly the post blew up and that it was wild to watch. "I just kind of stayed up until way too late, like 3 a.m., just reading and responding to as many posts, as many comments as I could, and just watching it all unfold."
And he acknowledged that, although it was not his intention, he now understands why people reacted so strongly to his crying selfie. "I can see how it could come off as virtue-signaling or 'pity me' or insincere." But he said that he wouldn't take the post down.
"The comments are one thing. My inbox, on the other hand, the personal direct messages have been incredible. Like the amount of support I'm receiving because people have been there, the amount of encouraging people, the other business owners have felt because they're worried about their company finances or they're worried that they'll have to do what I had to do or have just recently done it, or whatever. The amount of positive messages there says way more to me about what the post has done than the necessary public bash."
He also spoke to the pressure on business owners to only share their successes and not talk about their struggles. "The rags to riches story only happens if there were rags. I don't think enough people share the 'rag' moments. It's great to hear about the underdog who won the championship, but what about all the years that they were the underdog and lost? And I think that's the piece that I wish there was more of on social media."
From the POV of a business owner, the post absolutely makes sense. However, sharing this moment on a platform where employees (and the world) can also see it was maaaaybeee not the best choice. And meanwhile on LinkedIn, the debate over Braden's post is still raging on.