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‘Weak, pathetic, and cruel’: HR managers weigh in on Elon Musk’s Twitter mass layoffs

November 8, 2022, 7:48 PM UTC
Elon Musk
HR managers have slammed Musk’s approach to laying off thousands of workers.
CARINA JOHANSEN—Getty Images

In a matter of days, Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter has spurred outrage and sown disorder among company ranks. 

On Friday, Twitter unceremoniously laid off 3,700 staffers—some 50% of its workforce. The harried and disorganized dismissal came less than a week after the social media giant’s new CEO—er, Chief Twit—billionaire Elon Musk, took the helm. 

Former Twitter employees and users of the platform decried the ruthless layoffs, which Twitter’s HR team denied would take place.

On Friday, Scott Wiener, state senator in Twitter’s headquarters of San Francisco, called Musk’s “mass-fire” deeply concerning. “While companies periodically engage in layoffs to acknowledge economic realities, firing a full half of employees goes well beyond that.”

Since the layoffs were announced, HR leaders on Twitter have echoed Wiener’s sentiment. 

“I have worked in HR for over a decade and seen many different sizes and types of companies handle layoffs,” one user wrote on Friday. “From where I’m sitting, Musk’s Twitter is going about theirs terribly—legally, ethically, and humanely speaking. Infuriating and heartbreaking.”

“I hear that @elonmusk is going to be blaming HR at @Twitter for his bullshit layoffs last Friday,” another user said Monday. “As someone who has worked in HR for the last 9 years, I can assure you that we just carry out orders.” 

Katie Calabrese, senior human resources manager at Security Risk Advisors, a cybersecurity firm in Philadelphia, tweeted that she couldn’t stop thinking about the layoffs. 

“Putting aside the potential legal issues, a lot of poor HR behavior gets chalked up to ‘when you do XYZ at scale, you have to cut corners.’ I just don’t buy it. There is always a more compassionate, more moral alternative,” Calabrese said. “When leaders are this craven, it’s because they’re prioritizing their own comfort above others’ or they’re opting not to put in hard, time-consuming work, or both. It’s weak, it’s pathetic, and it’s cruel.”

Take a human-first approach

Most HR leaders stressed the importance of humanity and empathy when delivering employees bad news.

The laid-off workers, including an eight months pregnant woman, “definitely deserve more dignity than this,” Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St. Christopher’s, a palliative care charity in London, tweeted. “Surely there wasn’t such an urgency to do this so brutally and quickly. Hopefully they get some deserved compensation through the courts.” 

“Difficult decisions have to be made from time to time. Quick decisions too,” Gemma Dale, founder of HR firm the Work Consultancy, tweeted. “But there should always be room for humanity in the process.” 

As widely publicized layoffs sweep the tech industry, an ethical approach has never been more vital. Until the 1970s, mass layoffs were seen as “a sign of corporate failure and a violation of acceptable business behavior,” Louis Uchitelle wrote in his book, The Disposable American, according to a 2021 Quartz article on the history of mass layoffs. 

While mass layoffs are more common nowadays, what hasn’t changed is worker response. Those who survive the cuts often never regain their loyalty to a company if those cuts are done callously. A 2018 Harvard Business Review article found that downsizing a workforce by just 1% leads to a 31% increase in voluntary turnover the following year. 

Before Twitter’s layoffs occurred, the app’s CEO, CFO, chief marketing officer, chief customer officer, head of product, head of people and diversity, and numerous other senior leaders had departed. Unfortunately for Musk, he hasn’t got many more people to lose.

Case in point: He’s already asked dozens of workers he laid off to—please—consider coming back.

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