Twitter layoffs are perfect example of how not to fire people

For one expert, the absolute no-go is firing people en masse over e-mail, as Mr Elon Musk did at Twitter. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – There may be no good way to fire people. But there absolutely is a bad way – or several bad ways, and Twitter’s self-appointed chief twit Elon Musk, seems to have hit on most of them.

Some employees were laid off by e-mail. Others found they had been locked out of their work laptops and messaging channels before they even had official word of their dismissal.

There was no mention by Mr Musk of the most important reason the firings were necessary – namely that he needs to find some US$1.2 billion (S$1.65 billion) to pay the interest on the debt he raised to fund the deal. Worse: He has repeatedly seemed to blame staff for the firm’s problems.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, a 2014 how-to guide for start-up founders, venture capitalist Ben Horowitz outlines five steps to do layoffs properly: Get your head right; do not delay; be clear in your own mind why you are firing people; train your managers; and address the whole firm.

Ms Camilla Boyer, director of executive communications at payments processor Checkout.com, condenses the advice to three concepts: accountability, empathy and closure. She said she not only had the misfortune of working at three companies in the past year to have carried out mass firings, but also had to help executives communicate the decisions.

“Accountability – that means having a leader who is willing to own his mistakes. We don’t expect leaders to be perfect, but we expect them to have the humility to admit they are fallible, and that goes a long way to retaining the trust of the remaining team.”

Empathy often comes down to giving a generous severance package. The decision by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to fire 11,000 employees may seem brutal as he continues to spend billions of dollars on his metaverse plans, but he is giving them at least 16 weeks of pay and six months of healthcare coverage, and they will still get their 2022 bonuses.

“Closure is a really important one that companies often underestimate”, said Ms Boyer. “It means giving both sides – those who are leaving and staying – the chance to say goodbye.” This could mean letting them retain access to work e-mail and message channels for a few hours, even as sensitive information is restricted.

For Ms Boyer, the absolute no-go is en masse firing over e-mail, as Mr Musk did, or video call, as happened with online mortgage platform Better.com, which let 900 staff go via Zoom call in 2021. This is because, while those losing their jobs bear the brunt, managers also need to think about how it will affect other employees’ morale.

The technology industry, after years of outsize growth, is now cutting back, and thousands of workers are losing their jobs. As executives’ sky-high ambitions fall back to earth, the least they can do is cushion the landing for the victims of their failures. BLOOMBERG

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