After months of legal wrangling, Elon Musk now has the keys to Twitter HQ. And in typical cutthroat fashion, he’s wasted no time in ripping apart the company to remould it in his own image.
As per Reuters, the billionaire is looking to cut around 3,700 Twitter staff, or about half the workforce, as he seeks to slash costs and impose a demanding new work ethic, according to internal plans reviewed by the media agency.
Of course, having completed a lengthy, costly and ultimately, reluctant takeover, the new chief has every right to make big changes to the way the social media is run. And if the company is truly in a financial black hole, job losses are regrettably inevitable. It’s harsh, but not a decision Musk is unique in making.
The bigger issue lies in his approach to such upheaval. Twitter is not the factory line at Tesla. Musk may be able to streamline his way to higher profits, but, by dismantling any form of progressive HR policy that he deems an unnecessary work perk, every other aspect of Twitter's operations will take a knock.
Flexibility OUT, gruelling demands IN
One Twitter employee told Reuters that "days of rest," which are highly popular company-wide days off, have been removed from calendars for the rest of the year.
Musk is also known to be a demanding employer and a workaholic who regularly works 120-hour weeks.
"Because of the pressure that he puts on his entire executive team, his senior leadership team, even if they have the experience, they wouldn't dare speak up against him," one former Tesla employee told Business Insider.
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And, as he has already done at his other companies like Tesla, Musk has reportedly put an end to Twitter’s “work from anywhere” policy, brought in after the coronavirus pandemic. This is a move that could have a drastic impact staff who survive Musk’s mass cull.
A 2022 study commissioned by SafetyWing, surveyed more than 4,000 in-office and remote workers spanning four continents as part of its Remote Retention whitepaper.
It found that the majority of remote workers have increased their productivity and expanded their skillsets. Almost three quarters of remote workers are satisfied with their working environment, compared to 66% of office workers. Meanwhile, 83% of remote workers report feeling more motivated by their flexibility at work, and 78% say they’re motivated by their great work-life balance
Fear and silence
On Friday November 4, Twitter temporarily closed its offices and cut workers access to internal systems after telling employees they would be informed by email later in the day about whether they were being laid off.
According to The Telegraph, some UK employees began their workday by discovering they had been logged out of their Twitter email accounts, and Slack, having lost their jobs.
Transparency and clear communication with employees during a time of huge anxiety is crucial but, according to Reuters, managers were forbidden from calling team meetings or communicating directly with staff, one senior Twitter employee said.
The company also temporarily closed its offices and cut worker access to internal systems on Friday, after telling employees they would be informed by email later in the day about whether they were being laid off.
Additionally, it’s been reported that employees were learning about changes at their company by observing their work calendars and screenshots of discussion from managers, not from official communication from Musk or other leaders.
Lucy Heskins, Marketing Director at Career Cake, previously told HR Grapevine she believes that employees can be kept engaged as long as bosses are transparent and honest as possible.
“Be as open and as honest as you can be,” she said.
“You don’t always need to hide everything and absorb the pressure all by yourself. If you’re transparent with your people you may be surprised by how they deal with such a challenging situation.
“Of course, people are complex, and different people will react in different ways, but keep the communication channels open, talk about it and ensure even this part of the employee experience has a plan driving it.”
Communication between employees is also taking a knock too, it seems.
Undoubtedly, whilst their employment status still hangs by a thread, many staff will be fearful of expressing concern. After all, considering he dubs himself a “free speech absolutist”, Musk notoriously doesn’t like criticism.
In July, his other firm SpaceX fired a group of employees who criticised their billionaire boss in an open letter.
Reports in the New York Times claimed SpaceX employees penned the letter denouncing Musk’s activity on Twitter, describing his behaviour as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment” and asked the company to “rein him in.”
The open letter called to SpaceX’s leaders to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior” and “define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behavior.”
However, in an email obtained by NYT, SpaceX’s president and COO, Gwynne Shotwell, revealed that an unconfirmed number of the letter’s organizers had subsequently been fired.
Similarly, eight of nine former Tesla employees who shared their experience of working with him with Business Insider magazine demanded anonymity for fear of reprisal.
However, to play Devil’s Advocate, given how rashly Musk can make business decisions (his decision to buy Twitter being one of them), there is every chance that Twitter’s senior leadership isn’t clued in enough to give employees a clear indication of what’s around the corner.
What could be in store for UK-based staff?
Although the company has offices and employees around the globe, including the UK and Republic of Ireland, its headquarters are in California. Under Californian law, if more than 50 people are being laid off at the same time they need a 60-day notice period.
While some media reports indicate that some UK employees have lost their jobs, it is not yet clear to what extent any restructuring and layoffs will impact them. Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, told HR Grapevine: “A dismissal of this nature in the UK would generally not be lawful and would open an organisation up to significant risk of tribunal claims.
“Under UK employment law, employers who are considering making 20 or more employees redundant within a 90-day period must complete collective consultation and submit notification of the proposed redundancy to the Secretary of State. They must also compile a compelling business case to justify the need to consider redundancy action and ensure any related selection processes were conducted in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.
“A company-wide email informing staff of redundancy would not only open an employer up to extensive liability, it could also negatively impact their image, reputation, and employee relations. It remains to be seen what legal ramifications there will be for Twitter from employees who are being laid off.
"Global organisations like Twitter are likely to be bound by different laws on fair dismissals depending on the country in which its affected employees are based.
"However, jurisdictional matters such as these can be complicated when it comes to where employees can make tribunal claims and therefore which laws apply. It would be for the Courts to decide on the country to which the employee had the closest connection."
Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Tech and Engineering at trade union Prospect, said: “Twitter is treating its people appallingly.
“The Government must make clear to Twitter’s new owners that we won’t accept a digital P&O and that no-one is above the law in the UK, including Big Tech barons. That must include making sure UK staff’s full employment rights are properly protected.
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“We are supporting our members at Twitter and will be working with them to defend them and their livelihoods.”
Philip Richardson, Partner and Head of Employment Law at Stephensons, said: “The mass redundancy exercise at Twitter is another example of a laissez-faire approach to HR which can seriously harm employee morale and brand reputation. Whilst the majority of Twitter’s employees may be based in the US and Ireland, those UK-based employees are likely to have statutory rights and protections, beyond those listed in their employment contracts.
"This could include a failure to follow collective redundancy processes, unfair dismissal, rights to statutory payments such as notice and holiday pay as well as potential breaches of discrimination legislation. Each case has to be determined on its own facts but careful scrutiny will be given to Twitter’s decision which goes against the grain of best HR practice, whether nationally or internationally, in recognising the fundamental element of consultation with staff.”