This CEO posted a picture of himself crying over layoffs on LinkedIn.

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If he had thought about it longer, Braden Wallake might not have posted a picture of himself crying on LinkedIn.

But Wallake, the 32-year-old CEO of HyperSocial, a marketing start-up, had just laid off employees for the first time, he said in an interview with The Washington Post. He had tried to avoid making his small team smaller. He had cut his paycheck and made other business adjustments. In the end, however, he had decided to let two of his 17 employees go.

“This will be the most vulnerable thing I will ever share,” he began in a lengthy post alongside a photo of himself with visible tears. Wallake wanted to own his mistakes, he said, and reach out to other business owners who might be “feeling the pain” behind their tough decisions. He wanted them to feel less alone.

“I just want people to see,” he wrote, “that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn’t care when he/she has to fire people.”

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The post quickly went viral on LinkedIn and beyond, as many accused Wallake of being insensitive and a “creep.” With more than 68,000 tech workers laid off so far in 2022, many read Wallake’s post as privileging the CEO’s pain over the employees being let go.

“This comes across as tone-deaf, self-indulgent and a little inauthentic,” said one commenter. “Maybe you could have written the post about the people your decisions have affected, instead of about yourself?”

“If my boss had posted a picture of himself crying over having to lay me off with no excuses, I would have been [angry]”, said another.

But comments and messages of support also poured in from co-leaders and others who praised him for showing vulnerability and humanity.

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“Thank you for sharing and for restoring my faith in the business world again,” read one DM.

“When I see this post – I see a guy literally just trying his best,” one commenter said. “This guy cares about his employees – he decided to address 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. “

Wallake did not. Once he realized what was happening, he contacted the two affected employees to show them the post and let them know it wasn’t meant to make his “tough journey” seem worse than theirs. He shared about the job opportunities the post already generated. Both are still taking time to think about their next steps, he said.

As cracks form in the economy, technology start-ups have been among the first and hardest hit, with widespread layoffs hitting the industry in recent months. The industry has acted as a kind of canary in the coal mine to slow growth, with executives such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sundar Pichai among early voices about recession fears.

Other managers have made headlines for their approach to layoffs. Vishal Garg, CEO of online lending company, sparked outrage after he laid off 900 employees in December in a Zoom call that lasted less than three minutes.

“If you’re on this call, you’re part of the unfortunate group that gets laid off,” Garg announced over Zoom, according to reporting from National Mortgage Professional. “Your employment here is terminated immediately.”

Days later, Garg wrote a letter of apology to his employees, acknowledging that he had “embarrassed” them.

“I own the decision to make the layoffs, but when I communicated it, I got the execution wrong,” Garg wrote. “I realize that the way I communicated this news made a difficult situation worse.”

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Wallake said he knows the public has an image of wealthy executives “making layoffs just to line their own pockets.” He lives in a van with his girlfriend, who is also his business partner, and their dog, Roscoe. In his LinkedIn profile, he notes that he is a “5x college dropout.”

In some ways, Wallake said, his post was meant to push back against the idea that CEOs should “be brave.”

“Being a business owner and letting people go, I know it’s not fun on the other end,” he continued, “but we are also human, and we feel that we are losing a friend.”

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