Angry Slack messages. Crying in virtual meetings. Warnings of a potential mass exodus, and fear of future layoffs. Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid to buy Twitter has sparked turmoil among employees, with many workers eyeing an exit to join tech rivals.
The polarizing Tesla and SpaceX CEO has in recent weeks proposed a slew of changes he’d make to Twitter after the finalization of his acquisition, including taking the company private and revising the platform’s content moderation policies, both of which would have an immediate impact on Twitter’s operations and how employees are compensated for their work. These grandiose promises have left employees questioning how the company will actually change once the deal closes later this year.
Twitter leadership assured employees last month that they would receive compensation for their restricted stock units after the company goes private, but several voiced concern that the four-year payment schedule would get Twitter out of paying employees who quit or may be laid off.
As employees reassess their future at what could soon be a drastically different Twitter, recruiters must fill some 600-plus job openings at the company. Musk’s freewheeling nature and wild-card antics mark the beginning of several unknowns for the company. On one hand, his ownership will likely add a layer of complexity to recruiting efforts, making it difficult to hire diverse or mission-driven talent. On the other, Musk’s overhaul may attract candidates who are drawn by his sweeping proposals and cult following, and are tired of Silicon Valley’s liberal grip.
“I’ll be really candid—Elon Musk taking over the company is actually a great thing for Twitter,” says James, a former Twitter recruiter who wished to only be identified by his first name. “Everyone in the world knows Elon Musk. Everything he does is news, from what he names his baby to the women he dates, to even his cause for helping out Ukraine. So I think the publicity alone, which would be free, would be huge for Twitter.”
Average traffic to Twitter’s job postings on career insights platform Glassdoor increased more than 250% the week of Musk’s acquisition announcement, according to Daniel Zhao, a senior economist and data scientist on the platform’s economic research team. But contrary to the banal refrain, all press isn’t good press.
Musk is notorious for his ruthless management style, one that clashes with Twitter’s laid-back culture and could dissuade prospective hires. Saying that Twitter is on the precipice of a radically different future is no understatement. And periods of corporate turbulence can beget uncertainty and frustration among employees, and would-be candidates, as they reevaluate their alignment with a company in flux.
“Anytime there’s a huge organizational change, people who are well-versed in working at a company will say, ‘Do I think there’s bad things coming?’” says Matt Grove, a principal consultant with Recruiting Toolbox, a Seattle-based management consulting firm that specializes in recruitment strategy and training.
How companies treat current employees during transformational periods also affects recruitment efforts and employer reputation. Applicants scrutinize layoffs, or even the hint of future layoffs, as well as reductions in bonuses and equity value, and any suggestion of wrongdoing toward employees. That’s all the more true within the tech industry, which for years has been grappling with a talent shortage.
Grove says that with similarly situated companies, “a lot of candidates just won’t even call us back.” Leaders at such companies must be prepared to ask themselves: “Are we prepared to deal with a process where maybe we don’t have as many candidates as we typically do? Are interviewing teams equipped to make good hiring decisions, even with a far narrower talent pool that we may be able to pull from?”
One of the bigger challenges for Twitter will be trying to keep its laid-back culture alive during this transition, James says, noting that the company “has great energy and great people who work there.” Yet Musk stated on Twitter last week that “work ethic expectations would be extreme” following the takeover.
Twitter seems to be aware of the changing tide. The company says it is preparing for an “inability to attract and retain key personnel and recruit prospective employees, and the possibility that our current employees could be distracted, and their productivity decline as a result” of the merger, according to a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing. It has also reportedly instructed hiring managers to keep track of how many candidates turn down offer letters due to Musk’s eventual ownership, a potential repercussion that isn’t lost on employees. Twitter employees took to the platform on the day Musk’s acquisition deal was announced to joke about how new hires might respond to the news.
The downside for those involved in hiring is that while it can be easy for companies to center their problems on recruitment, hiring challenges really boil down to leadership, Grove says. A high volume of press coverage can exacerbate the job precarity that employees must already contend with, as well as opaqueness regarding the future executive team, its vision, and how current and future workers fit into upcoming changes. Candidates, in particular, will want answers to these questions during the hiring process, and it will be up to the hiring team to establish transparency protocols, Grove says.
“Anytime you’re dealing with turbulence, the recruiters and the hiring teams have to be really well aligned on this stuff,” he says. “How do we answer these questions that we know are going to come, and how transparent can we be?… They’re tough challenges in a difficult hiring market anyway, but they’re really tough when you’re talking about new leadership, new ownership, or any big organizational change.”
James says that historically, Twitter has always been transparent with employees. “That’s one thing I did value about the company. We were never kept in the dark about anything,” he says. Keeping those lines of communication open will be important, he says, and hosting town halls with Elon Musk could help provide clarity to staff. To that end, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal told employees last week that the company would try to find a way to bring Musk in for a Q&A session. “It’s [Musk’s] job to actually build that kind of trust with employees,” James says.
That’s not the only thing Twitter’s staff will want the new CEO to work on, though. Many have complained about his online banter—jokes about starting a university with the acronym TITS and tweeting that “pronouns suck”—and Tesla’s sexual harassment and racial discrimination lawsuits, which they say could hurt Twitter’s diversity efforts.
“He’s got a lot of damage control to do because, again, he doesn’t really go off of a regular script. He kind of goes off the cuff with some of his comments,” James says. “He really has to be careful, especially being the CEO of a company. Everyone’s always listening.”
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