Planning layoffs feels akin to planning a murder. Managers call secret meetings to identify which employees to eliminate. They observe the targeted workers' morning arrival times to plan the best hour to strike, forming teams of hit men to deliver the news.
Being privy to the plans places you in the morally questionable position of knowing your co-worker's fate but concealing it from him, like concealing from a friend that a car is about to hit him. You exchange pleasantries with him the day before his doom, discussing upcoming projects that you know do not concern him.
As the unlucky employees are called one by one to the boss's office, a contagion of rumors spreads through the building. Every heart thumps in fear of being called next, as medieval villagers trembled that the plague would jump from their neighbor's house to theirs, or as a panicked crowd scatters beneath the unpredictable aim of a rooftop sniper.
After the layoffs, survivor guilt blends with relief in those left behind. The names of the departed are taboo and spoken only in whispers. We say the fired employees were "let go," as if the company merely allowed rather than forced them to leave.
Soon, the daily collegiality of the workplace lulls everyone back into a sense of familial belonging, and we forget that we are instruments of profit whose continued employment depends on earning the company more money than we are paid.