Twitter’s layoffs by email were highly publicized and reportedly the most chaotic since those conducted over Zoom by better.com. What can employers learn from them? We offer some lessons here.
Lessons from Twitter Layoffs
1. Don’t act too quickly
While Elon Musk and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged that the company was overstaffed and would undergo cuts, Musk took action to make staff reductions as soon as he took over. This meant that there wasn’t time to evaluate cuts from a performance, as well as financial perspective, which could have resulted in redeployment of high-performing employees in areas where they might be needed.
Taking more time helps to avoid unnecessary errors, such as firing employees by mistake or letting go of team members who are vital to operations. It can also help to create a tactful plan for the notification process, which takes into account potential consequences of the layoffs. For example, all of Twitter’s employees were notified around the same time — no matter whether they were in the U.S., UK, or India. This means that some employees stayed up all night to learn their fate, while others had to check their email upon waking up to learn the news. An alternative plan might have taken the different time zones into consideration and timed notifications accordingly.
2. Communicate clearly, tactfully, and sensitively
When conducting a layoff, it’s important for the communications — whether made in person, by phone, virtually, or by email — be handled sensitively, tactfully, and responsibly. The communications should include not only the reasons for the staff reductions, but also how employees and/or roles were chosen for elimination. And the notice should take into account how the recipients will be affected. Layoffs are unpleasant, stressful, and anxiety-producing events. Employees — both those impacted and those remaining — should be treated with respect, or else your business may pay the consequences in poor company reviews, bad press, and plunging productivity.
The internal memo Twitter employees received was signed “Twitter,” as opposed to coming from Musk himself, someone else in leadership, or someone in human resources. No matter the reason for this choice, the result of the impersonal notification is that employees may have felt regarded as numbers rather than humans.
While layoffs can have negative repercussions for a company, those consequences can be reduced when a CEO takes responsibility and communicates the difficulty with which decisions were made. In Twitter’s case, former CEO Jack Dorsey spoke up following the layoffs to apologize for the actions, which he said were due to his growing the company too quickly. Acknowledge that layoffs are painful and challenging both for those being let go and those remaining, and explain that those impacted will be taken care of as they exit. Which leads us to lesson 3…
3. Make sure those impacted are fully informed
Those being eliminated should be given the courtesy of complete information at the time of their notification. In the case of Twitter, employees were told, “Today is your last working day at the company, however, you will remain employed by Twitter and will receive compensation and benefits through your separation date of February 2, 2023.” However, it was not explained that two months of that compensation would be considered pay since they would still be employed, although not permitted to work during that time. This means that they would be receiving one month of severance pay. According to some impacted employees, they had not received separation agreements and were told they’d receive more information in a week. Because the whole severance package was not communicated to employees at the time of notification, which was provided by email, many impacted employees were left with uncertainty about their futures.
A better alternative would be to have each employee’s severance package, including pay, vacation payout, and any benefits, including healthcare and outplacement, readily available at the moment of notification. Following this suggestion will also make things easier on your HR and benefits team, since it will help to streamline communications and eliminate unnecessary back and forth with those impacted, especially at a time when resources may be limited.
4. Follow WARN Act guidelines
The WARN Act stipulates that companies with 100+ employees give 60 days’ notice before beginning mass layoffs. They can provide 60 days of severance pay in lieu of this notice. This federal law holds a financial penalty. Elon Musk claims to have given three months’ severance to every employee who was laid off, however they are also to remain employees of the company for the first two months of that period, although not permitted to work. Class-action suits have already been filed against Twitter. While there may not be any financial impact to the company, such lawsuits can drain resources and have a negative impact on an organization’s reputation. Taking more time for the notifications, as outlined under Lesson 1, would allow for clearer adherence to the federal and any similar state laws.
Lessons from Twitter Layoffs: Summary
INTOO offers the four lessons above so that your business can avoid negative repercussions to your employees and employer brand that can often be associated with layoffs. Layoffs will never be easy, no matter how many employees are impacted or how much time you have to prepare. However, you can have some control over how the event is received by current and future employees, your customer base, and the public, no matter the size of your company or timing of your event. Your company’s reputation can be affected in the short and long term by reviews on employer review sites such as Glassdoor, not to mention the press. Taking care to conduct layoffs in a sensitive and thoughtful manner will help to protect your organization so that it can more quickly recover after the event.INTOO’s outplacement program helps employees transition to new jobs through unlimited one-on-one, on-demand coaching from premier career counselors, resume reviews, and other career services. Learn more about how our outplacement program can benefit your company when you’re transitioning employees.
Robyn Kern is a seasoned business writer who has written in the HR, education, technology, and nonprofit spaces. She writes about topics including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more, with the goal of surfacing workforce trends and educating the HR community on these key topics. Her work has been featured on hrforhr.org and trainingindustry.com.