Elon Musk talked about laying off 75% of Twitter employees; he may have just gotten his wish


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Connie Loizos

When Peter Clowes last updated his LinkedIn profile, he listed his role as “Layoff Survivor” at Twitter. Yet Clowes, a senior software engineer who joined the company in the spring of 2020, is now gone, too. He quit yesterday, dispassionately explaining last night on Twitter that he decided to leave not to hobble Twitter or because he hates its new owner, Elon Musk, but simply because he no longer had any incentive to stay.

It now appears that a significant percentage of Clowes’s colleagues felt the same way. While they weren’t part of the 50% of Twitter employees who lost their jobs at the end of October in an unprecedented layoff at the social media outfit, as its 3,700 remaining staffers, they were presented with an ultimatum this week by Musk. The choice that he presented to them: commit to a new “extremely hardcore” Twitter, “working long hours at high intensity,” or leave the company with three months of severance pay.

A Hobson’s choice, essentially, Musk was clearly hoping that some percentage of Twitter’s remaining employees — who are expensive and who he had no say in hiring — would opt to leave the company. In fact, Musk reportedly told investors he might slash 75% of staff before taking over the company, so whether he’s in shock today or celebrating their mass exodus is only something Musk and his inner circle knows.

Certainly, the numbers are stunning to nearly everyone else. The New York Times reported earlier today that based on its sources’ internal estimates, at least 1,200 full-time employees just handed in their figurative key cards. Clowes, in a long series of tweets about his own departure, suggests the number could be even higher. Talking about his own “org,” he writes that “85%+” of his colleagues were laid off in October and that a stunning “80%” of those who remained opted out yesterday.

Indeed, what strikes us, reading Clowes’s explanation about why he left, isn’t that so many people walked out with him. It’s almost more astonishing that 100% of employees didn’t leave, raising questions about who Musk thought would stick around. If he wanted only those employees with no choice but to kill themselves for now, that seems . . . like a flawed business strategy.

Otherwise, if Musk was hoping to hold onto anyone else, one assumes a carrot would have been offered. Instead, as Clowes wrote yesterday, there were only sticks, and lots of them.

Clowes wrote, for example, that he left because he “no longer knew what I was staying for. Previously I was staying for the people, the vision, and of course the money (lets all be honest). All of those were radically changed or uncertain.”

Clowes left because had he stayed he “would have been on-call constantly with little support for an indeterminate amount of time on several additional complex systems I had no experience in.”

He left because he saw no upside to Musk’s brash management style, which Clowes suggests he could have tolerated longer if he wasn’t operating wholly in the dark. Instead, by his telling, Musk still hasn’t shared a vision for the platform with employees. “No five-year plan like at Tesla,” wrote Clowes. “Nothing more than what anyone can see on Twitter. It allegedly is coming for those who stayed, but the ask was blind faith and required signing away the severance offer before seeing it. Pure loyalty test.”

There has been so little communication from the top that rumors and speculation have run rampant, Clowes suggested. Among staffers’ apparent concerns: that not only would Twitter become subscription based but that adult content could become a core component of those offerings, wrote Clowes. (Underscoring how little insiders have been told, Clowes then referred readers to a Wired story about a Washington Post story about Musk’s reported discussions with employees about monetizing adult content on Twitter.)

Last but not least, wrote Clowes, there was “no retention plan for those that stayed. No clear upside for sticking it through the storm on the horizon. Just ‘trust us’ style verbal promises.”

By yesterday, Clowes was living in a world where his “friends are gone, the vision is murky, there is a storm coming and no financial upside,” he wrote. So “[w]hat would you do?” he continued. “Would you sacrifice time with your kids over the holidays for vague assurances and the opportunity to make a rich person richer or would you take the out?”

You would take the out, which Musk surely expected. The question is whether he can build back with who’s left before the whole thing caves in.

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