“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” — Charles Dickens, 1859
If there was any question that we’re living in Dickensian times, two communications this week should put that to rest.
I’m referring to the letters that went out to employees at Twitter and Stripe, who both had significant layoffs — Stripe letting go of 14 percent of its staff and Twitter getting rid of about half of its employees.
Layoffs are never easy. They’re not easy for the leaders who need to make the decision — because typically it’s the last resort for most companies — nor are they easy for those whose lives are upended, with uncertain futures in uncertain times.
The two communications about these layoffs couldn’t be further apart in their styles and approach. And they say a great deal about the leaders running these companies.
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First, we have Stripe, the payment processing firm that’s integrated with many online and ecommerce entities. They laid off 14 percent of their staff because they made a miscalculation about how much online commerce would grow and they overinvested.
Right up front, the executives — CEO Patrick Collison and president John Collison — express their sorrow and admit their culpability:
“Today we’re announcing the hardest change we have had to make at Stripe to date. We’re reducing the size of our team by around 14% and saying goodbye to many talented Stripes in the process. If you are among those impacted, you will receive a notification email within the next 15 minutes. For those of you leaving: we’re very sorry to be taking this step and John and I are fully responsible for the decisions leading up to it.”
They then go into detail to give context to the decision, to help employees and the public understand what led to this moment.
Contrast this to the note from Twitter — which is signed, impersonally, as just “Twitter” — that begins tersely and without emotion:
“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday. We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company's success moving forward.”
Although, in their defense, they do attempt to show some empathy at the end of the communication, but it’s coupled with a warning, so it loses its edge:
“We acknowledge this is an incredibly challenging experience to go through, whether or not you are impacted. Thank you for continuing to adhere to Twitter policies that prohibit you from discussing confidential company information on social media, with the press or elsewhere.”
But there’s no acknowledgment of what led to this (insiders I’ve spoken to have admitted that Twitter was overstaffed for a while), even though Elon Musk had been planning to reduce headcount before he completed the purchase.
However, in a public tweet before the announcement, Musk tried to distract by blaming advertisers, who paused their spending with Twitter shortly after the deal closed (and as a result of some of his questionable behavior):
The Stripe communication is transparent about the number of people affected and what they can expect in the process. They go out of their way to again admit responsibility:
Around 14% of people at Stripe will be leaving the company. We, the founders, made this decision. We overhired for the world we’re in (more on that below), and it pains us to be unable to deliver the experience that we hoped that those impacted would have at Stripe.
There’s no good way to do a layoff, but we’re going to do our best to treat everyone leaving as respectfully as possible and to do whatever we can to help. Some of the core details include:
Then Patrick and John reiterate their feelings for their colleagues and tell them about the personal support they’ll get:
“Most importantly, while this is definitely not the separation we would have wanted or imagined when we were making hiring decisions, we want everyone that is leaving to know that we care about you as former colleagues and appreciate everything you’ve done for Stripe. In our minds, you are valued alumni. (In service of that, we’re creating alumni.stripe.com email addresses for everyone departing, and we’re going to roll this out to all former employees in the months ahead.)
We are going to set up a live, 1-1 conversation between each departing employee and a Stripe manager over the course of the next day. If you are in an impacted group, look out for a calendar invitation.”
Twitter says next steps will be privately shared:
“By 9AM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, everyone will receive an individual email with the subject line: Your Role at Twitter. Please check your email, including your spam folder.
If your employment is not impacted, you will receive a notification via your Twitter email.
If your employment is impacted, you will receive a notification with next steps via your personal email.
If you do not receive an email from twitter-hr@ by 5PM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, please email xxxxxxxx.”
And then closes the email by expressing its feelings in a sanitized way:
“We are grateful for your contributions to Twitter and for your patience as we move through this process. Thank you. — Twitter”
Can you imagine the pit in your stomach as you wait for the “Your Role at Twitter” email to arrive in one of your two inboxes?
Stripe concludes their email:
“For the rest of this week, we’ll focus on helping the people who are leaving Stripe. Next week we’ll reset, recalibrate, and move forward. — Patrick and John”
Read the Stripe email in full, as published on Stripe’s site.
The Twitter note is short enough that we can reproduce it in its entirety here:
Layoffs are never easy. They leave a mark. Real humans are affected — moms and dads, sons and daughters, single people, married people, people just out of college, people at the apex of their careers, people who are responsible for the lives of others.
When we remember these real humans in our efforts, and treat them with dignity and respect, perhaps they’ll remember the kindness shown to them. They’ll remember that they mattered.
“I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other’s soul, than I was in the souls of both.” — Charles Dickens, 1859
When we’ve completed our work, whatever it may be, what can be said of us? Can we live with the decisions we’ve made and the lives we’ve impacted?
Leaders with integrity and empathy will rest easy.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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Elon Musk sounds like a manager at one of my part-time jobs with all of his passive aggressive leadership.
I don't understand why people want to work for him. If he doesn't get his way he cries about it.
The reason advertisers are leaving isn't because they are activists it is because they have seen and read about his leadership and decided to stay away from a toxic culture.
Did not, have not, will not use Facebook for all sorts of reasons. Barely used Twitter (I think maybe three tweets). Suspended now.
By today's standards, my megaphone is (1) small and quiet, (2) traditional (via blog essays), and (3) as honest and thoughtful as I can make it.
Scott, another great article. Perhaps these days we should rephrase our goals to be "life, liberty, and the pursuit of civility..."