‘Layoffs are a fact of life.’ So what makes Twitter’s so uniquely cruel?
Image: Twitter; Protocol

‘Layoffs are a fact of life.’ So what makes Twitter’s so uniquely cruel?

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Inside, Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky and Lizzy Lawrence write about the suddenness and the scale of Friday’s Twitter layoffs, and Protocol’s Joe Williams takes a step back to look at layoffs as a longtime problem plaguing Big Tech, a byproduct of living in what he calls a “fantasy world of limitless cash and seemingly uncapped growth.”

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

2022’s cruelest layoff

Elon Musk’s goodbye to the hordes of Twitter employees he laid off late last week was never going to be “warm and fuzzy,” according to Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky and Lizzy Lawrence. But between the timing, the scale, the lack of communication leading up to the cuts, and Musk’s failure to address the layoffs publicly as they were happening, the mass dismissal “smacked of a particular kind of vengeance.”

Nearly three years into a pandemic, corporate layoffs have all started to borrow from the same flawed playbook: the earnest, if impersonal, layoffs over Zoom; the blog posts, written by CEOs who claim to be heartbroken by their decisions; the cringey crying CEO videos.

  • Each of these approaches is flawed in its own way. Layoffs are never anything but brutal. But few examples have compared to the singular cruelty of Twitter’s overnight purge.

Unlike so many of his industry peers, Musk didn’t personally express any remorse at all about his decision. There was no tortured thread about how difficult the cuts would be, no public blog post laying out the company’s reasoning or the benefits fired workers would receive going forward.

  • Instead, as Twitter employees found themselves suddenly locked out of company accounts Thursday night after receiving a companywide email that said layoffs were about to begin, Musk spent the wee hours reacting to shitposts about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and literally posting about shit. (Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
  • On Friday Musk indirectly acknowledged the layoffs by retweeting a thread by Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity, that addressed the loss of "incredibly talented friends and colleagues."
  • Finally, late on Friday afternoon, Musk directly addressed the layoffs in a tweet, stating that “unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing $4M/day.” He added that Twitter had offered all the affected employees three months of severance, “which is 50% more than legally required.”

The email that Twitter’s new leadership sent to staff on Thursday was uniquely cold. It acknowledged that this is “an incredibly challenging experience to go through,” but immediately followed up by reminding the thousands of people who were about to be canned “to adhere to Twitter policies that prohibit you from discussing confidential company information on social media, with the press or elsewhere.”

  • The brief memo — the first communication employees had received from their new boss — wasn’t even signed by Musk. Instead, the email was signed simply “Twitter,” a reminder to the thousands of people who have built Twitter for years that it now belongs to people who have been with the company about a week.

Even if Twitter and Musk don’t suffer legal consequences from the WARN Act lawsuit that was filed Thursday, it seems inevitable that the brutality of the layoffs will leave a stain on the company’s reputation and internal culture, which has been singled out in the tech world as being notably inclusive and open — characteristics that are rarely, if ever, attributed to Musk’s other companies.

“Quitting Twitter Inc earlier this year is like graduating high school and feeling a bit sad but like, nostalgic,” one former Tweep wrote, “and then a few months later your high school explodes.”

Fair WARNing

A group of former Twitter employees filed a preemptive lawsuit Thursday warning that Twitter could violate both the state and federal WARN Acts, which require 60 days’ notice of mass layoffs, Protocol Policy reporters Hirsh Chitkara and Ben Brody wrote.

It’s currently unclear if Twitter violated the act, but a spokesperson for the California Employment Development Department told The New York Times that the agency didn’t receive notice of the layoffs from Twitter.

“Look Ma I’m suing Twitter,” tweeted former Twitter software engineer Manu Cornet, who is one of five named plaintiffs in the suit.

If Twitter was proven to violate the WARN Act, it would force Musk to offer affected employees benefits and backpay for up to 60 days — but it can only go so far. “The WARN Act doesn’t have many protections,” Lee Adler, an employment law professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said. “It can’t restore employment.”

Read the full story.

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Tech’s layoff problem

Between Twitter, Lyft, Stripe, and numerous others, last week felt like a particular bloodbath for tech layoffs. But according to Protocol writer-at-large Joe Williams, Big Tech has always had a “firing problem” as companies repeatedly awaken from a “fantasy world of limitless cash and seemingly uncapped growth.”

Laying people off will never be easy for corporate leaders, he said, but they only made it harder on themselves after a decade of acting like the Gilded Age of tech would last forever.

Read the full story.

OK, Google

California, Washington, and Massachusetts — three states that are home to sizeable tech hubs — saw the most Google searches about layoffs in the last 12 months, according to Google Trends data.

  • Coinbase, Peloton, Twilio, and Shopify made up the top five layoff-related Google searches during the last year.
  • Search interest in layoffs peaked in mid-June and again in early August.
  • In the last 90 days, Google Trends saw surges of related searches for “crying” and “selfie” — which we’re assuming are connected to the viral layoff announcement post from HyperSocial CEO Braden Wallake featuring a tear-soaked selfie.

Some personnel news

Anyone else having a bad case of Great Resignation whiplash? It’s hard to keep up with which tech companies are growing, shrinking, floating, or sinking. We’re here to help.

⬇️ The Wall Street Journal reports on the “stream of grim news” for the tech industry: particularly layoffs at Stripe and Lyft and a hiring freeze at Amazon.

⬇️ Half of Twitter’s workforce has already been laid off, The Verge reports.

For more news on hiring, firing, and rewiring, see our tech company tracker.

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Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

Advice from an early SpaceX VP on how to work for Elon Musk. (Insider)

How to cut through red tape as a leader. (Chief)

Even after this year’s layoffs, Coinbase’s headcount is 26% larger than it was at the start of the year. (Axios)

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com.

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