How Elon Musk’s ruthless layoffs, summary firings paint him as an employer

How Elon Musk’s ruthless layoffs, summary firings paint him as an employer

If you thought it was harsh and undignified the way Elon Musk sacked and practically threw former Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal out of the office the day he took control of the microblogging site, the Tesla chief has proved that he is capable of worse. Musk on Monday summarily sacked a member of the Android app developer team, but not by mail or in person, but via a tweet.

Cost of confronting the boss

It all started when Android developer Eric Frohnhoefer replied to a tweet by Musk saying that his assessment that the microblogging site was “super slow in many countries” as the app was “doing >1000 poorly batched RPCs (request-response protocol) just to render a home timeline!” was incorrect. Eric said he has never seen just a trend in his career of six years at Twitter.

Musk responded by telling Eric to correct him with the right numbers and asked what he has done to fix the site’s slowness on android.

Also read: How Twitter will change with Musk as boss

Reacting to the conversation, an unidentified Twitter user, claiming to be an experienced developer, advised Eric to take the conversation to a private domain instead of tackling his boss in public. “I have been a developer for 20 years. And I can tell you that as the domain expert here you should inform your boss privately. Trying to one up him in public while he is trying to learn and be helpful makes you look like a spiteful self serving dev,” the user said.

To this, Eric said it is Musk who should try asking questions privately. “Maybe he should ask questions privately. Maybe using Slack or email,” Eric tweeted.

Soon after another user taunted Musk by saying, “with this kind of attitude, you probably don’t want this guy on your team.”

To this pat came Musk’s reply – “He’s fired.”

Eric confirmed that he has been indeed fired in another tweet.

Summary, ruthless sackings

The incident comes barely days after Twitter under Musk went on a sacking spree, knocking over 3,700 people or 50 per cent of its 7,500-strong workforce and 4,400 contractual workers off its rolls, as a means to cut cost.

According to reports most of the employees sacked on November 4 via email were in teams meant for communication, content curation, human rights, machine learning ethics, and product and engineering. This included 784 employees in Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters and 199 in San Jose and Los Angeles.

Musk had blamed a “massive drop in revenue” behind the layoffs, which he said was in turn triggered by a collective of civil rights groups which has been asking Twitter’s advertising partners to take action if he did not protect content moderation. Musk pegged the loss at $4 million a day.

On November 15, reports revealed that Musk has laid off at least 4,400 of its 5,500-odd contractual employees without any prior notice. Sharing the news, Casey Newton of Platformer, tweeted that the sacking will “have significant impact to content moderation and the core infrastructure services that keep the site up and running. People inside are stunned.”

 Also read: Twitter job cuts: What are digital layoffs, and how can employees cope?

While it was clear that top Twitter executives will be asked to leave once Musk took over the company, no one predicted the ruthless way the billionaire would execute it. On October 28, the day Musk took over Twitter as part of his $44 billion acquisition deal, the Tesla boss fired Twitter’s then chief executive Parag Agarwal, policy chief Vijaya Gadde and chief financial officer Ned Segal. Not just that he got Agarwal and Segal escorted out of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters.

This was followed by ruthless axing of employees a week later. According to reports, while many of them were intimated via email, most of them learnt that they have lost their jobs after being denied access to email and Twitter’s internal messaging system Slack.

Social media was abuzz with news of the sackings after several Twitter employees shared their experience.

Even though Twitter in an email to staff on November 3 alerted them about the layoffs, stating that they would know about their employment status by 9 am (PST) on November 4, several employees said they were denied access to their work platforms much earlier.

According to a report, over 10,000 employees were blocked on email and Slack by 11 pm (PST) of November 3 across the world.

Interestingly, the email didn’t bear Musk’s signature and in a rather cold way was addressed to “Team” and signed “Twitter”.

Tweeps  express solidarity

People who posted the news of their retrenchment on Twitter used hashtags like #OneTeam and #LoveWhereYouWorked along with blue heart and military salute emojis even as they were denied the customary farewell and one last chance to visit their offices.

More than the sorrow of losing their job, Twitter employees or Tweeps, as they are called, expressed grief over having to bid adieu to a workplace and colleagues they loved, and extended solidarity with teammates aboard the same boat.

The sacked people included those in managerial posts such as the company’s director of ML ethics, transparency and accountability, the chief information security officer, the global head of social and editorial, the head of location Strategy and the managing director of Twitter Studio.

“Unfortunately, I have lost the job that I cared deeply and passionately about. Supporting Twitter’s growth globally, keeping our workforce safe, and planning our global strategy were my passions,” tweeted an employee named Catharine Broadnax.

 Also read: Twitter scraps ‘Official’ label soon after launch; Elon Musk says ‘I just killed it’

“It’s official. It’s been an honour. Twitter Studio Managing Director Out. So much love to the team that rode the wave with me. Put up with my slack sappy love notes. Navigated big challenges + created award winning work. Onward we go. Tweep fam 4 life. #OneTeam #lovedwhereyouwork,” another employee tweeted.

Simon Balmain, a former senior community manager at Twitter told CNN that he couldn’t log in to Slack eight hours before being sacked through email on November 4th morning, and neither was provided any reason for the layoff.

“The waves of annoyance and frustration and all that stuff are absolutely mitigated by the extreme solidarity we’ve seen from people that are in the company, people that are in the same position, people that left the company in years gone by,” Balmain told CNN, adding that “It’s like a giant support network, which has been absolutely amazing.”

Interestingly, Twitter made a U-turn a day later, telling a dozen of employees that they have been laid off by mistake and coaxing them to return.

According to reports, many employees also filed a class action lawsuit against Twitter on the night of November 3 itself, accusing the Musk-helmed company of violating the federal and California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. WARN requires a company with over 100 employees to provide 60 days’ advanced notice prior to mass layoffs which could affect 50 or more employees at a single place of employment.

Many employees, however, shared that they were relieved of being sacked as they were spared of working under Musk.

“For me, being safe would’ve been punishment,” an employee told CNN.

What is it to work for Elon Musk?

In a matter of weeks, Musk has driven Twitter employees through a nightmare – he has thrown out top Twitter executives on a whim, axed half the workforce, put a stop to work from home for existing staff and is now hammering them to buck up to save Twitter from ‘bankruptcy’.

Those who have worked for him describe him as a crabby, pubescent individual, who is intolerant towards constructive criticism, is feared and avoided by employees and will go to any extent to extract revenge if crossed.

Famous for his rage, Musk on many occasions is known to have given employees a dressing down in front of colleagues for trivial reasons and fired those who have questioned him or given feedback.

According to Los Angeles Times, Cristina Balan, a former model S engineer for Tesla, was escorted out of her office and fired after she emailed Musk about some safety issues in product design.

Also read: Twitter Blue likely to be restored end of next week, says Elon Musk

According to Wired, in 2017 Musk made a scapegoat out of a young engineer after his plans for cutting-edge automation at Tesla’s battery factory in Nevada affected factory productivity.

According to the story titled ‘Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk,’ Musk asked the engineer to figure out what was wrong.

“Hey, buddy, this doesn’t work!” he reportedly shouted at the engineer.

“You mean, program the robot?” the engineer reportedly asked him. “Or design that tool?”

To this Musk, as per Wired writer Charles Duhigg said, “Did you f– do this?”

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” the young engineer said.

“You’re a f– idiot!” Musk yelled. “Get the f – out and don’t come back!” he said, as per the account shared with Duhigg by another employee.

A report in the Los Angeles Times also recounts the many episodes in which Musk and his bad temper has not only scared employees including top Tesla executives into quitting, but the billionaire has also avenged those who have spilled company secrets outside, even if meant employing private detectives for the job.

Musk is known to have cracked the whip on employee unions and Tesla has been repeatedly hauled up for violating US labour law.

His extreme callousness towards employees came to the fore when hundreds of factory workers of Tesla contracted COVID-19 after Musk in May 2020 flouted lockdown orders and kept the company’s California plant open. Even though the government had imposed ‘stay-at-home’ orders, Musk told employees that they could stay at home, but wouldn’t be paid for it.

The world’s richest person, who has brought similar work ethics to Twitter, is now predicted to steer its doom.

In a survey conducted last week, Blind – a forum where employees post their work experiences anonymously – found that only 2 per cent of Twitter employees would recommend their workplace to friends or family and 89 per cent said that the microblogging site will crumble under Musk.

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