This year was a notable year for the technology sector between layoffs and hiring freezes. One of the most significant tech moments is perhaps Twitter’s acquisition by billionaire, Elon Musk.
The genius behind Tesla, Musk is one of the main reasons people are starting to pay attention to electric cars. Musk started putting the wheels into motion earlier this year to acquire Twitter, when he became their largest shareholder in March 2022. In April, he offered to buy Twitter for 44 billion dollars, and the board accepted his offer that same month. On October 26, Musk walked into Twitter’s headquarters, solidifying his role as the new CEO.
Musk made Tesla a massive success. So what type of impact did he have on Twitter? What has happened at Twitter since he took over as CEO, from an HR perspective? Keep reading to find out about the impact of his behavior and how he’s diverged from standard HR practices.
HR implications from the Twitter takeover
So from an HR-perspective, did Elon Musk handle the Twitter takeover well? From a purely HR best-practice perspective, below are things that could have gone better.
HR blunder 1: Employees were terminated inappropriately
How terminations were conducted is perhaps the most significant and public blunder of them all. Musk’s termination of Twitter employees was done ruthlessly, impersonally, and even illegally (more on this in the section below).
One of Musk’s first cost-cutting initiatives was laying off about half of Twitter’s workforce. Some people were let go via impersonal emails. Others weren’t even formally notified, but instead learned they were laid off because they lost access to their emails and Slack, and had their laptops wiped remotely.
Moreover, several employees were publicly terminated for correcting or criticizing him on Twitter. This is an especially shocking move for a CEO, where remaining rational and professional are prerequisites of the job.
Finally, just days after being terminated, some employees were asked to come back. This is because some of them were fired by mistake, or management realized these people were essential because of their valuable skills and expertise.
HR best practice: Layoffs should be handled professionally, and with care
While layoffs are a common tactic to reduce costs, terminating people should be done carefully and compassionately.
While layoffs are a common tactic to reduce costs, terminating people should be done carefully and compassionately. Firing close to 3,700 employees is difficult and time consuming but it’s important to remember that these people are not just numbers; they are people with families to support. Moreover, losing your job can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. These people should be met with sensitivity.
So how should layoffs be handled? Workest has a guide here, but one of the main misses with Twitter appears to have been how it was communicated.
HR blunder 2: The layoffs are not necessarily legal in some regions
Some law experts say its execution was actually illegal in some states and countries. American lawyer, Lisa Bloom, let California employees know that under the CA WARN Act, it was Twitter’s legal obligation to give employees 60 days notice before initiating a layoff involving more than 50 people.
In Europe and the UK, Musk is also facing legal troubles, where firing employees is far more complicated than in the United States. For example, Ireland obtained a court injunction against the firing of Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s global vice president for public policy. She was terminated because she didn’t officially respond “yes” to Musk’s email asking employees to commit to an “extremely hardcore” workload or to leave.
HR best practice: Layoffs should follow the law of the country the employee operates in
Before mass layoffs began, Twitter employed ~7,500 people across dozens of countries. When laying off people, it’s key to make sure you follow the law of the country those employees reside.
HR blunder 3: A lack of change management
Replacing a CEO is always a significant change for employees. Rather than embracing Twitter’s existing culture, Musk instead made sweeping, extreme company changes.
A major change imposed by Musk was ending remote work for Twitter employees. In his very first email as CEO, he told employees they must return to the office 40 hours per week, unless he personally approves the employee in question working from home.
He also eliminated Twitter’s monthly “days of rest” that the company had introduced during the pandemic to combat burnout. Instead of announcing this change, he simply removed it from the company calendar.
HR best practice: Change management needs to be handled thoughtfully, and aligned with company culture
Change management is never easy. That being said, we suggest these basic rules when introducing change. To implement culture change in the workplace, employers must identify the culture they want, assess what they have, and take action. Making sweeping changes without involving input from the team or transparency around decision making will leave a negative taste in your employees’ mouths.
Making sweeping changes without involving input from the team or transparency around decision making will leave a negative taste in your employees’ mouths.
HR blunder 4: Employee burnout wasn’t taken into consideration when introducing changes
As noted above, Musk also eliminated Twitter’s monthly “day of rest”. He also sent an email to everyone, describing what being part of the “New Twitter” would entail: “Musk wrote that employees “will need to be extremely hardcore” to build “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0” and that long hours at high intensity will be needed for success.” He instructed people who wanted to stay employed and work for this new “hardcore Twitter” to click ‘yes’ on a link provided in the email.
HR best practice: Leaders should ensure psychological safety is always maintained
Musk’s email to employees about “hardcore Twitter”, also puts employee emotional safety at risk. In the memo, he outlines extreme expectations, such as “This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
Moreover, his very public firing of employees who simply corrected him likely made other workers feel unsafe voicing any grievances. When employees feel psychological safety, they are more engaged, more productive, and more innovative.
HR best practice: Worker burnout is widespread, and should be taken seriously
Burnout existed well before the pandemic, and has been increasing since early 2020. One significant way to combat burnout is to promote a healthier work-life balance. Asking employees to work long hours, eliminating rest days, and having employees sign off on “hardcore Twitter” might actually increase burnout and threaten a healthy work-life balance.
One way to combat burnout includes setting clear working hours and being transparent about expectations and putting employees in charge. Musk’s “hardcore Twitter” demand does not take into account the long-term implications of subjecting employees to that degree of intensity.
Overall, Musk’s takeover did not follow HR best practice
In short, Musk’s transition as CEO was handled poorly in many ways from a people perspective. Firing people by locking them out of their computers, and without formal communication, does not instill confidence in the remaining employees or demonstrate respect for departing one. Laying people off haphazardly and reactively may not build the most trusting culture. Significant organizational changes, like eliminating remote work and mental health days should be carefully considered and its transition should be well-planned.
Changes of any kind require care and consideration to keep employee morale intact. Some reports show that morale at Twitter is now at an all time low.
Does it have to be this way to make Twitter profitable? Right now, the answer is unclear because only time will tell! However, from a purely HR, human, and people-centric approach, Musk as a leader seems to be falling short.
The post Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover: HR and Culture Blunders appeared first on Workest.