Knowledge Workers and Tech Companies Are in The Middle of The Messiest Public Breakup in Recent History

Et Tu, Google?

On the morning of 20th January this year, a host of knowledge workers woke up to find out from the news that they were among the 12,000 Google employees who had been unceremoniously disposed of in the dead of night. The recent Google layoff, while massive in itself, follows an ever-growing trend in the tech industry.

According to, 1044 tech companies laid off 159,846 employees last year. This year is going strong as well. 107,930 knowledge workers have been laid off so far, and it's only February. Others will quickly join their ranks as companies announce plans to lay off large chunks of their employees to cut costs. Dell, for example, is geared up to lay off 6650, or a staggering 5% of their entire workforce this year. Even Disney is about to lay off 7000 employees as subscriptions to Disney+ start to dip.

While the happiest place to work on earth may have made headlines, companies removing employees from their system with little to no forewarning is not that novel of a piece of news at this point.

Tech giants dove headfirst into hiring in the last few years, spending millions beefing up their staff. They're now reversing that trend, perhaps not putting enough resources into developing sustainable plans. The entire situation is a mess, to say the least.

The grim news of back-to-back layoffs is further punctuated with ridiculous situations like Google firing a guy who had already given notice. Instead of paying a few days of ‘banked' time off, they're on the hook for months of severance pay. So much for cost-cutting.

Back And Forth

Last year, Amazon laid off about 20,000 employees, closely followed by other tech giants quickly clearing their ranks to cut costs. Almost instantly, the tech industry posted an almost equally ludicrous number of job openings.

Thankful people who had been laid off from big tech firms remained in demand till the end of the year. This trend looks to continue well into 2023. But what if the perfect employee a company wants to hire doesn’t want to sell their soul to the corporate world again?

At this very moment, thousands of knowledge workers worldwide have decided that they want nothing to do with ideas of company loyalty. Despite big moves like Apple CEO Tim Cook taking a 40% pay cut to keep from having to lay off employees, industry workers seem less than pleased with the current dynamic.

The sector has treated them as disposable assets time and time again. So, it is unsurprising that many refuse to return to the restricted, one-cubicle-large world. Today, job seekers want to know what exactly they are signing up for, and they are demanding more.

More leaves. More money. More family time and room to pursue their own side hustles.

Gone are the days when an employee could be expected to dedicate almost all their waking hours to their company. Hustling for ‘the man' is not cool anymore. In the wake of the great betrayal that left hundreds, nay, thousands of hapless people reeling before they could even grab their morning cup of joe, people are unwilling to trust any company. Especially one that can dump them on their behinds without warning.

Corporations have drilled home the fact that every employee, whether newbie or veteran, is disposable. Job seekers are now treating companies with the same attitude. Job-hopping and quiet quitting have become norms in a world where companies won’t have employees’ backs. Potential and current employees want to give their corporate overlords an unpleasant taste of their own medicine.

Not to sound like every piece written post Covid crisis, but the pandemic did change things. Yes, it gave companies a rather big excuse to move forward with said layoffs. But, what this era also brought to the forefront, is that almost every non-essential job can be done from the comfort of one’s living room. So, when companies came calling, expecting to put their employees back into a cubicle, quite a few did say nay.

Knowledge workers are now choosing freelancing and side hustles over slogging days away at their office desks. Leading this movement to free employees from corporate shackles is, of course, Gen Z. Surprisingly or not, though, millennials, GenX, and even baby boomers have started joining the ranks of workers who would rather not sign another full-time contract with corporate bosses.

To Freelance or Not to Freelance: That Is Not Really a Question

In a recent survey, a whopping 89% of 500 highly skilled knowledge workers spoke about how control and flexibility are the need of the hour. Almost two-thirds of the people surveyed also claim that freelance work has never looked more attractive.

After all, if the recent wave of layoffs has proven anything, it is that an employee’s commitment to their employer may not mean much in the end. So, it is perhaps unsurprising that we are witnessing a near-revolutionary shift in people’s attitude towards full-time work.

People are vying for flexible, no-strings-attached relationships with their jobs this Valentine’s month. In fact, half of the US workforce is expected to turn to freelancing by 2027. But what exactly is it that’s turned freelancing into the most eligible bachelor in town?

  • Sheer flexibility: Freelance work is almost synonymous with flexibility. While it doesn’t come with cool benefits and healthcare, the freelance life offers one a ton of leeway when it comes to choosing work hours, clients, and projects. It also removes the need to maintain hierarchies and deal with the added drama that is often part and parcel of full-time office work.
  • More control over one’s time: Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, freelancing has your back. You can choose when you want to work and create your own schedules according to project deadlines. If you spend the day with the kids at an amusement park, you can tweak your schedule to get all the necessary work done before or after those hours.
  • Chance to work on dream projects: Freelancing allows you to go for projects you have always wanted to work on. If you are a sustainability enthusiast, you can apply to work with companies in that niche. With the ability to take up multiple gigs across niches, there's no need to stress over lower pay for passion projects. If your dream project, favorite non-profit or side hustle isn’t making you much money, other gigs can help you stay afloat.
  • Good pay: Freelancers are not paid pennies anymore. There is an ongoing demand for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across niches. This means companies will pay good money to hire you for your talents. Plan well, and you can make six figures just by freelancing.
  • More inclusive: This is not news, but full-time office work often isn’t disability friendly. This is especially true for people without visible disabilities, i.e., those who struggle with chronic pain, neurodivergence, and mental health crises. Freelancing allows for a lot of legroom here since it lets you work from your own comfort space, using a setup that you know works best for you.

When faced with a full-time employer that asks for your loyalty but does not offer the same in return, knowledge workers across all generations are united against their perceived common enemy.

But while the layoffs seem instrumental in instigating the biggest breakup in recent economic history, the feelings may be mutual after all.

A Good Goodbye

Reports claim that 71% of young tech founders are pivoting towards hiring independent contractors. With the current economic upheaval, utilizing freelancers may be the silver bullet when facing rapidly changing circumstances and company needs. Whether this is a case of spurned love or not, one must admit that engaging with remote freelance workers may offer companies much-needed agility.

And therein lies the silver lining, even in these tumultuous times. While the Great Betrayal has perhaps made freelancers channel Thanos for a second, in the end, this seismic shift in people’s attitude towards freelance work could prove to be mutually beneficial for both employee and company.

That said, the game is still afoot. So, maybe it is still too early to hope for a happily ever after.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Ananyaa Bhowmik is a neurodivergent and queer pop-culture journalist with the Wealth of Geeks. She has previously worked with brands like Sterling Holidays, Myntra, Bajaj, and the Loud Interactive. She is an independent scholar, cat parent, and performance poet. Her areas of research and interest focus on and around digital marketing, Canadian indigenous history, queerness in media, and pop-culture and fandom studies.