Critics Say Elon Musk’s Chaotic Twitter Takeover Treats Employees Like Collateral Damage

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*Originally published in Forbes

Chaos has erupted at Twitter since Elon Musk took over. He fired top executives and laid off almost half of the company’s 7,000 workforce by mistake, then asked them to come back due to the importance of their roles. And other executives are quitting [not quietly]. Musk declared an end to remote work and warned of the possibility of Twitter's bankruptcy. Some are asking if this is the beginning of the end—even the start of the downfall of American social media.



Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose for Growth and Impact, told me that Musk is treating people like collateral damage instead of human beings, forgetting basic human decency in the way he’s handling the layoffs. Lim is an expert at teaching people how to create workplace cultures—led with happiness and humanity—that generate more profit, sustain people at every level of the organization, and make ripples of impact by encouraging employees to be true to their authentic selves. She draws on her decades of experience in culture and strategy to translate visionary ideas into practical frameworks for more sustainable workplaces.

What do you mean by the loss of the Human Experience?


Jenn Lim: The whole world got 2020’d, and we’ve been in different stages of trying to understand how that’s impacted us. According to Gallup’s latest State of the World’s Workplace report, anxiety and stress levels are higher than ever before, suggesting that many of us haven’t been able to process the toll it’s taken on us mentally, emotionally, and physiologically. In 2020 BC [before Covid], the trend was to manage the employee experience, but that needs to be expanded now. Work and life are more integrated than ever, and progressive leaders understand that the outcomes we wanted before—productivity, engagement, retention, and attraction of the right talent—need to be approached in new, more current, human ways.


The Great Resignation and quiet quitting are symptoms, indicating the way we’ve worked is no longer working. As leaders, we need to be supportive of the whole person, which includes mental, emotional, physical, relational, financial, and purposeful/spiritual realms of what it means to work. Wholeness in the workplace is about embracing employees' entire lives and providing psychological safety for them to express how they think, feel progress, and struggle. With the enormous losses we've collectively experienced, it’s more important than ever to remember everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about, so it’s more than just being kind to one another. We need to be human.


If Musk is treating people like collateral damage versus human beings, what could he do better?


Lim: There are ways to make and execute tough decisions while prioritizing values and people. We should be more mindful of rolling out bad news with a lean into humanity. These layoffs could have been better if done with empathy and by creating psychological safety in the moment. During these difficult times, values and humanity should be at the core from the moments that led to this layoff decision to sharing the news with ACTion [alignment, clarity, and transparency]. Anonymous employees have been reporting how it’s been “chaos” since the layoffs. Imagine the difference if ACTion was taken.


Has he violated the law? If so, how?


Lim: California has policies in place that detail how corporations should handle layoffs—specifically that at least a 60-day notice must be given to both the state and employees. Given the fact that Musk took over just a week prior to the layoffs, the state claims they haven’t received notice, and lawsuits are starting to pile up. It appears that the law might have been violated. However, if Twitter pays 60 days of severance to laid-off employees, the law technically will not be violated. But, whether legal or not, it’s missing the point. The impact will reverberate for a while because of the insensitive way it was handled.


What should companies do when they have to conduct layoffs [e.g., proper notice, compensation, referrals, & so forth]?


Lim: Layoff announcements shouldn't be done over social media, locking employees out of systems without notice, or inviting hundreds of people to a Zoom call without context they’re about to lose their job [hello Bird 2020]. Layoffs should be done in a direct human-to-human way, which means providing support like severance, referrals, job search assistance, and an empathetic ear with psychological safety in place.


What companies are approaching layoffs the right way, i.e., Airbnb?


Lim: There is a right way to do such a difficult thing. Airbnb was forced to lay off 25% of its team, and the CEO, Brain Chesky, was transparent and empathic. He made it clear that the layoffs were in no way a reflection of the great work his team was doing. They even provided generous severance packages, which included pay and health care coverage. Parts of the internal HR team were tasked to help laid-off employees in their job search. By holding true to their value of human connection in times of good and bad, they’ve now weathered the storm and recently experienced their most profitable quarter to date.


What is the best way for leaders to align on tough decisions like these while staying true to company culture?


Lim: As leaders make these tough decisions, it’s tempting to take the emotion out of it. Psychologically it can be a salve to soothe an uneasy conscience. But conscious leaders take the opposite route. During Covid, these leaders put aside titles and office politics and put on their empathy hats, knowing what was at stake in how they’re impacting livelihoods. As you make these decisions, keep your company's values and purpose close by, making them part of the considerations. Leadership should start with why these choices are being made and then how they level up to the values and purpose of the company. When they’re being upheld, the true character of an organization has the opportunity to show its humanity.


What are your tips for how leaders and employees can navigate these difficult times and handle tough choices with transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity?


Lim: As a leader, how you act during challenging times will be a part of your living legacy.

  • Think through your actions and words with empathy first.
  • Communicate clearly and directly about why this is happening. People appreciate honesty and transparency because they're respected as human beings, not as a number or collateral damage.
  • Amp up psychological safety with attentive listening without judgment or dismissal. Ask genuine questions about their mental and emotional well-being, what options they might have now, and anything that speaks directly to what they're thinking and feeling. Be present in your conversations.
  • Remember, your worth isn’t dependent on whether you were the one laid off or stayed on.
  • Be honest with yourself in what really matters most to you. Identify or revisit your values and purpose to see how they’re showing up [or not] in the moment.
  • Let that lead the way in how you approach difficult conversations with your manager or leadership. If conversations don’t progress or you were a part of the layoff, use your values as table stakes you won’t give up on when you look for your next job.

Are you a leader trying to navigate a tough decision? 

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About the Author

Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is the Founder and Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital, Inc., ( I am author of 40 nonfiction books, including CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023) and #CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019). My books have been translated into 15 languages. I am Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where I conducted the first studies on children of workaholics and the effects of workaholism on marriage. I built my career on the themes of resilience and work-life balance and have lectured throughout the world on work addiction and workplace issues. My research was featured on 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, The CBS Early Show, CNBC’s The Big Idea, and NPR's Marketplace. I hosted the PBS documentary, Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself. I maintain a private psychotherapy practice in Asheville, NC, and reside in the Blue Ridge Mountains with my spouse, three dogs, one cat, several tropical birds, and occasional bears at night.


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