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❤️ A viral layoff lesson

What we all can learn from a broken corporate layoff system

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What we can all learn from a broken corporate layoff system


If your LinkedIn feed is anything like mine, you may have seen a superbly crafted layoff email from Google’s CEO to one of its engineers in recent weeks. 

It went megaviral by any standard, but especially by LinkedIn’s.

Check it out. The below note garnered 52,300+ likes on LinkedIn and over 5.8m impressions, both massive numbers for the platform:

Dear Henry,

Today marks a pivotal moment in your career, and it's one you've been gearing up for over the past eight years.

It's time to embark on a new adventure as you've outgrown what Google can offer you.

Let me explain:

From your first day at Google, you seized every opportunity presented and established yourself as a pioneering force, developing the company's first Swift iOS app and driving massive user growth as the founding engineer on the Google Growth team.

Your innovation and leadership culminated in co-founding and leading Google's central iOS and Android product experience team, enhancing user experiences across apps like YouTube, Search, Chrome, Maps, Drive, and Gmail.

In this role, you didn't just lead a team - you set the vision and strategy, impacting millions of users worldwide. If this wasn’t enough, you also pioneered platforms for managing privacy and fostered a culture of product excellence that produced high-performing teams and cemented your reputation as a solid leader and strategist.

It’s now your moment to step aside, making way for the next generation of engineering talent.

Take all that you've learned and experienced at Google and use it to make your mark on the world. So, go and build something incredible. Forge your own path.

As a token of gratitude for your invaluable contributions, we're offering a generous severance package - think of it as seed funding for your future endeavors. And don't worry - you have 60 days to strategize your next steps before this takes effect.

Your impact at Google has been profound, and we're excited to see where your journey takes you next.

You're destined for great things.

Always here for guidance,


This is a remarkable example of how to communicate difficult news – in this case, a layoff – with empathy, respect, and encouragement. 

Unfortunately Sundar didn’t write it. 

No one at Google did. 


This viral email was a reflective, self written exercise by the laid off engineer, Henry T. Kirk, to himself, one year after the event. The real life email was an impersonal, standardized form letter:

As Henry himself put it:

Reflecting on that email, I was struck by its legal tone, devoid of any personal touch, signed by someone I'd never even heard of.

For all my contributions over the years, it felt like an abrupt and unceremonious end. It was anything but what I expected from a company that prided itself on being fun and unconventional.

On this one-year anniversary, I’ve decided to rewrite this message into something more empowering. The kind of send-off I believe every departing employee deserves and one that aligns with the early culture of Google.

Dissecting Henry’s note, paragraph by paragraph, is a master class on exemplary corporate communication.


In short, surrounding layoff news with:

  1. A sincere acknowledgement of specific past contributions,

  2. a heartfelt message of support,

  3. an explicit encouragement of future success, and 

  4. an offer of support and gratitude

…is how to conduct a difficult conversation over email with tact and grace.

And while not everyone on LinkedIn agrees, in my view, it’s a lesson in the power of empathy and the importance of maintaining dignity and respect in all professional interactions.

That’s one reason I was so pleased when Henry, the email’s writer, kindly agreed to share a deeper look at his writing process with fv/.

His personal account of how and why he wrote this email to himself —and the aftermath of its virality— is fascinating.

The insights Henry shares on the corporate layoff system, Harvard’s (sus) advice on the matter, and how to go viral on LinkedIn not once but twice has lessons for everyone in business and in marketing.

I’m pleased to provide our interview here, almost completely in its entirety. Thanks again to Henry Kirk for pulling the curtain back on this for us.

fv/ Thinking back to when you received the canned layoff email a year ago, how did you feel? How did those emotions fuel your desire to rewrite the layoff message a year later?

Henry/ It wasn't a great feeling, getting that notice. For a few minutes, I was like, "Oh crap, this isn't good." But then I knew I needed to spring into action and make something of this —I had a family to take care of. Also, I've lost it all before, so I wasn't about to let it happen again. Of course, this time around, I was way more prepared. Broadly, I wanted to ensure I found the silver lining in this situation, and I was going to work my hardest to ensure it came to fruition. I wanted to rewrite my message because I realized that layoffs are seen so much as a negative, and I wanted to spin it into something to be excited about.

fv/ In advertising, many campaigns are centered on a “big idea,” a conceptual model that I've written a lot about. A big idea is basically an easily understood, likeable, logical but also lateral message or take on something. I think your “moment to step aside” expression is exactly that: you’ve cleverly reframed your own layoff as an opportunity for others. Did that just come to you? Or were you thinking about it for a while? Or, is that expression (“It’s now your moment to step aside”) something that Googlers have said/heard during previous layoffs?

Henry/ I've been a leader for a large part of my career. And in my early days, I was pretty terrible at it. I have been working to improve my leadership skills once that became apparent to me. So, my “moment to step aside” comes from a belief that, as a leader, one should be grooming/mentoring the next generation of leaders and that, at some point, you need to let them have their opportunity.

fv/ How'd you go about writing it? Did you outline first? Was it stream-of-consciousness? And what were the top 2 key elements/principles you wanted to include in your Sundar layoff email?

Henry/ I'll start a Google doc with a topic and then start jotting down my thoughts. It can take me hours to a few days or weeks to get to a state where I am comfortable drafting something. I don't force myself to finish one topic in any period of time. Once I get to a draft, I'll ensure I get it to a final post within a day or two. For this post, I started it about two weeks earlier when I saw the anniversary of the layoff was coming up. The topic was "Reflect on a year since the layoff." The main theme I wanted to convey is that the layoff was positive, and my time at Google was preparing me for the next adventure. I wanted to be contrary to how most view a layoff.

fv/ If you had one piece of advice for corporate leaders on how to handle layoffs humanely, what would it be?

Henry/ Broadly, the system is broken. Leaders are so driven by fear of lawsuits that they forget what it's like to be on the receiving end of all of this. Over the past year, we've seen layoffs over email and Zoom. We've seen leaders read prepared scripts or still maintain their bonuses for the year. I've even heard companies prefer to layoff via Zoom so employees won't steal or damage company property. That's a signal of how out of touch executives are these days.

After the layoff, I caught this article in HBR, which really emphasizes my point: https://hbr.org/2023/01/preparing-to-announce-layoffs-in-a-virtual-meeting. It mentions you should rehearse the announcement like it was some Broadway production. That shows the lack of self-awareness and empathy leaders have for their teams.

So, my advice is: don’t forget that your team got you to where you are. Have the news delivered in person (unless not possible) by the person who managed that employee. Then, follow up yourself and be available to them. Give them ample time and support to help them find a new role. After all, they've likely sacrificed a lot to help the company get where it is today.

Not to mention, the CEO should be held accountable. After all, it was their strategy that led the company to overstaff or need to cut expenses. Sacrificing a bit themselves (reducing pay or bonuses) will send a strong message that you are holding yourself accountable. Actions speak louder than words.

fv/ You made a point to acknowledge specific contributions in the email. That would be “automat-able,” using Bard [Google’s gen AI tool at the time] as you suggested in one of the post’s comments or, in a pinch, manually possible —though that might be logistically hard and/or could also backfire if the data doesn't track with the person's experience for whatever reason (ie., human error, missing info). How important do you think the personal acknowledgment of achievements is in this email? What about in the context of a layoff?

Henry / Critical. You'd want to remind them of their value because they'll likely feel deflated and helpless upon receiving the news.

Their manager should know all of the achievements. If they don’t, that’s a fail on their part.

To clarify, when I said [in the LinkedIn comments section that] Bard could write them, I really was getting at the summarization followed by human revision. Performance reviews likely have a lot of data, so utilizing an AI tool to summarize could be helpful.

fv/ How would you characterize “the future of corporate communication” in sensitive situations like layoffs based on this exercise, and the response you've gotten?

Henry/ I sure hope leaders start to notice that their communication approaches are unacceptable. Even the most recent Google layoffs were not much different than how I was let go. If companies keep this up, they are going to struggle to hire and retain talent. Nobody wants to work for a jerk.

fv/ Can you share some of the favorite feedback you've received? Has any of it surprised you? I personally found the comments fascinating. One commenter, for instance, called the big idea that I liked so much “disingenuous BS.” What was your natural reaction to that?

Henry/ I've been trying to keep up with comments. The sheer volume of feedback was unexpected. I never thought it would have that sort of impact. There were several that thought the original notice was acceptable and preferred that. I'll assume they have never led or managed people before. I'd encourage them to revisit their comment after they've had that experience and see if they'd still agree with it.

One I saw recently referred to me as a clown. I always thought of myself as funny, but didn't realize I was at that level of fun.

fv/ Your email was so thoughtful. Did writing it provide any additional closure? Or were you already “over it.”

Henry/ I was over it —but I'm sure a trained psychologist may disagree. My intention wasn't to provide closure, but to just reinforce my goal to flip the negative into a positive.

fv/ The post went mega viral, with over 52K likes! (a) Do you recall how many LI followers you had before the post? (b) Any lessons from “going viral” on LI?

Henry/ I had a post when I announced my company that went pretty viral - 2.25m impressions, 16K likes and over 900 comments. This one was off the charts: 5.8m+ impressions, [more than] 52K likes, and 1.7K comments.

Before my first viral post, I had 1,800 followers. Before the most recent post, I was at about 9,500 followers as I remember having a goal to hit 10,000 followers in 2024. Now I'm over 19,100. That's pretty wild. I can't believe so many people are interested in what I have to say.

My advice to others is to offer valuable content, see what engages your audience, and deliver more of that. I don't think there's any trick other than trial and error.

Written by Jon Kallus. Thanks for reading.