In a survey of 500 knowledge workers in the US, 89% said they would like to have more control and flexibility over their work schedule than traditional full-time employment can offer.
Seventy-four percent said that the recent waves of layoffs have made freelance work more attractive than before.
62% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made them feel less secure committing to one employer.
On January 20, Justin Moore, a software engineer at Google, woke up to discover his account was deactivated. After over 16 years at the company, this was the only information he received to tell him that he was one of the 12,000 employees laid off.
Justin joined countless other ex-Googlers—many of them top performers—who swarmed LinkedIn to share the news, as they had no other way to say goodbye. And vent about the betrayal and lack of loyalty.
“I can’t feel gratitude in this moment for a company that I gave so much of myself to, but felt it appropriate to part ways by locking me (and 12,000 of my colleagues) out of my corporate account at 4am,” wrote Blair Bolick, a Google recruiter. “I’m devastated. I’m sad, angry.”
“This just drives home that work is not your life, and employers—especially big, faceless ones like Google—see you as 100% disposable,” Moore wrote. "Live life, not work.”
“I’m devastated. I’m sad, angry.”
For Katie Olaskiewicz, a Google strategist, the callous nature of the layoffs added to the sense of betrayal. "It's difficult when you feel betrayed but there isn't really an individual you can direct your anger towards," she wrote.
Alphabet’s layoffs followed a cut two days earlier by Microsoft of 10,000 employees, some of which had been with the company for decades. (As the layoffs rolled out, Sting serenaded execs at Davos). They were just the latest in a string of “Loud Layoffs”—as CNBC put it—that started in November, when 60,000 layoffs hit the sector including over 10,000 employees at Amazon, Meta, and Twitter.
Scott Galloway dubbed it the “Patagonia Vest Recession”—a hilariously cutting framing that was contradicted as soon as the November jobs trickled out, showing that the tech industry actually added nearly 15,000 jobs in November, and laid off workers remained in demand. That continued in December; despite 9,916 layoffs, the tech industry added 17,600 jobs, its 25th straight month of net employment growth.
“It's difficult when you feel betrayed but there isn't really an individual you can direct your anger towards.”
It appeared that the labor market wasn’t being upended—tech workers were still in demand—but a big shift in how workers felt about their jobs was underway. The sense of stability in full-time employment was being broken with the second wave of major layoffs in less than three years, following the one that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Replacing it was a bubbling sense of betrayal. Simultaneously, we saw a spike in applications to join the A.Team Network. Were the layoffs driving people to ditch full-time employment and rent their skills instead of being tied to one employer? We wanted to learn more.
From November 29-30, we partnered with Pollfish to survey 500 knowledge workers—including 109 that had recently been laid off—in the US to better understand how the recent wave of layoffs had impacted their sense of security and stability in full-time employment.
Key findings: In light of layoff betrayals, knowledge workers are ready to break up with full-time employment
In a survey of 500 knowledge workers in the US:
- 89% said they would like to have more control and flexibility over their work schedule than traditional full-time employment can offer.
- 74% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made freelance work more attractive than before.
- 66% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made them lose trust in the stability and security of full-time employment.
- 62% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made them feel less secure committing to one employer.
The results reveal what may be a seismic shift in how highly-skilled workers feel about full-time employment. We had the Great Resignation, The Great Reconsideration, and Quiet Quitting. Now, in the wake of Loud Layoffs, we’re seeing signs of a Great Betrayal that’s causing workers to reconsider full-time employment, as more and more highly-skilled tech workers signal a desire to break up with full-time work and consider the freedom and flexibility of freelancing.
Two-thirds of workers say that the recent wave of layoffs has made them lose trust in the security of full-time employment, and nearly all (89%) crave more control and flexibility over their work schedule than full-time employment can offer.
In turn, independent work has emerged as an attractive alternative: Nearly three-quarters of knowledge workers said that recent layoffs have made freelance work more attractive, and 62% said that layoffs have made them feel less secure committing to one employer.
We’re seeing signs of a Great Betrayal that’s causing workers to reconsider full-time employment.
This illuminates why more than one-third of the growth in the labor force since 2020 has come from self-employment—despite a red hot job market—and that over 50% of the workforce is expected to be independent by the end of the decade.
Laid off workers are particularly disillusioned with full-time employment
Amongst the 109 knowledge workers that had been laid off in the past 12 months, those sentiments were even more clear:
- 93% of recently laid-off workers said they would like to have more control and flexibility over their work schedule than traditional full-time employment can offer.
- 88% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made freelance work more attractive than before.
- 83% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made them lose trust in the stability and security of full-time employment.
- 83% said that the recent waves of layoffs have made them feel less secure committing to one employer.
While these results may not be entirely surprising given the brutality of some layoffs—like the ones we witnessed in real-time at Twitter—they’re still striking. Laid off workers are deeply disillusioned with full-time employment and may be channeling T-Swift, vowing to never ever get back together.
It’s not just Big Tech
Was this trend isolated to tech giants? As we dug in further, we found it was pervasive. The majority of employees across the board are all disillusioned with full-time employment—whether they work at a large, midsize, or small company.
Every generation is ready to move on
Quiet Quitting was branded a Gen Z phenomenon. Does the Great Betrayal follow suit?
Not quite. While a whopping 78% of Gen Z say that they feel less secure committing to one employer, most Millennials and Gen X-ers do too—as do almost half of Baby Boomers, the generation known for bemoaning the lack of loyalty amongst young workers today. It seems that most everyone is realizing that employers are no longer earning workers’ loyalty: across generations, a majority of knowledge workers say they’ve lost trust in the stability and security of full-time employment.
Millennials (78%) and Gen Z (76%) are most drawn to freelancing—not surprising, given that over one-third of people in both generations currently freelance—but a majority of Gen X (69%) and Boomers (51%) are drawn to independent work as well.
And while all employees of all ages overwhelmingly want more flexibility, older generations are leading the push with 92% of those ages 45+ wishing they had more control over their work schedule. That sheds light on LinkedIn CEO’s Ryan Roslansky’s recent comments that while only 14% of jobs on LinkedIn are fully remote, they garner 50% of all applications.
What’s driving people to ditch full-time? Flexibility, financial gain, and meaningful work
The layoffs are accelerating a shift that’s quietly been underway the past few years.
The share of highly-skilled knowledge workers who freelance has been growing steadily the past few years, and one-third of people making over $150,000 a year work independently. And as HBR reported, 68% of independent workers say they feel more secure working independently than for one employer.
That corresponds with our internal data at A.Team. In July, we asked 504 members of the A.Team Network—46% who had actively worked on an A.Team mission before—what attracted them to independent work. What this group of engineers, product managers, designers, and data scientists said is illuminating as to why freelancing is such an attractive alternative to employees disillusioned with full-time work amidst the latest layoffs.
The major factors driving people to independent work fell into three main buckets:
Flexibility: 78% of respondents in the A.Team Network survey identified flexible work location as a main reason driving them to full-time work, and 73% identified a flexible work schedule.
Meaningful work: 69% said that independent work allowed them to pursue work that aligned with their personal and career interests.
Financial gain: Perhaps most notably, 59% said that they were driven to independent work because they were able to make more than working full-time.
In turn, over two-thirds of respondents said that while working as an independent, they had more job satisfaction, financial opportunities, and work-life balance—a triumvirate of factors that most every worker is looking for in their careers.
A mutual breakup?
While these findings indicate that knowledge workers are ready to break up with full-time employment, there are signs the feeling may be mutual—with employers also looking to shift to a more blended, flexible workforce.
When we surveyed 581 tech founders & execs this past summer, they said that independent talent is a key tool amidst economic uncertainty and remote work: 71% agreed that bringing on freelancers or independent workers gives their business greater agility during times of economic uncertainty, and 70% said that remote work has made them more likely to bring on freelancers.
And they weren’t just bringing on independent workers to handle isolated tasks—instead, they were strategically integrating them into the business in ‘blended teams’ with full-time employees, with 73% of respondents saying they have integrated teams of full-time and independent workers.
Likewise, in our survey of over 300 HR leaders this summer, 50% said they were relying on freelancers more than a year ago.
Looking at all this future-of-work data together, it’s hard not to wonder: maybe we’re all coming to the same conclusion about full-time employment, but just afraid to say it out loud?