'Sorry.' The tone of layoff memos from tech CEOs shows how accountability matters.
- Major tech companies are cutting workers.
- In memos announcing their cuts, leaders at Google, Meta, and Stripe apologized for their decisions.
Recent job cuts at tech powerhouses like Meta, and now Amazon, show how the way layoffs are communicated can leave workers who are already in a stressful situation feel even worse.
Just this month, companies such as Google parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon have detailed cuts to their workforces. They joined other companies like Stripe, Meta, and Twitter, which announced layoff plans late last year.
One difference in the layoff warnings is the tone that the CEO memos have taken. For example, in a January 4 statement, Amazon's Andy Jassy communicated layoffs in a more matter-of-fact way, without a direct apology. The leaders at Alphabet, Meta, and Stripe conveyed more emotion, accountability — and included the all-important apology.
Read the statements here:
"This will mean saying goodbye to some incredibly talented people we worked hard to hire and have loved working with. I'm deeply sorry for that," Sundar Pichai, CEO of parent company Alphabet, wrote. "The fact that these changes will impact the lives of Googlers weighs heavily on me, and I take full responsibility for the decisions that led us here."
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg struck a similar tone in November. "I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I'm especially sorry to those impacted," he wrote, showing empathy and taking responsibility.
"I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that," Zuckerberg wrote.
Similarly, in a November 3 note, Stripe cofounders Patrick and John Collison, who started the payment company in 2010, announced the layoff of 14% of Stripe's workforce. The brothers also took full responsibility, apologized, and provided transparency.
"For those of you leaving: we're very sorry to be taking this step and John and I are fully responsible for the decisions leading up to it," Patrick Collison wrote in an email to employees.
Alphabet's, Stripe's and Meta's memos also stand out when looking at Twitter's approach. On the same day the Collison brothers shared their message with employees, Twitter sent an unsigned memo to its workers announcing sweeping layoffs and office closures. The note went into little detail and later that night, some employees were, to their surprise, locked out of company Slack and email accounts before receiving any formal notice of their termination.
Why these memos are resonating with workers
In one case, employees at the human-resource platform Compt discussed Stripe's memo in their company Slack. They said the note was "well-done" and a great example of taking accountability.
"For an extremely tough decision, I have great respect for how Patrick and John Collison handled the situation," Joe Alim, Compt's vice president of product and operations, told Insider in a written statement. "The leaders are taking full ownership of the consequences of their decision and truly showing compassion towards each employee by offering them a well-thought-out and generous severance package."
Stripe's memo told laid-off employees they would receive pay until at least February 21, 2023, annual bonuses for 2022, pay for unused time off, healthcare for six months, accelerated stock-option vesting, career support, and immigration-services support for visa holders. Meta's memo pointed to similar benefits for laid-off employees based in the US; at least 16 weeks of base pay, paid-out PTO, healthcare for six months, and career and immigration support.
Both notes indicated that aggressive hiring and tough economic decisions influenced the layoffs.
Still, the Collisons primarily placed the blame on themselves as leaders. Patrick Collison serves as CEO, while John Collison is president. "In making these changes, you might reasonably wonder whether Stripe's leadership made some errors of judgment. We'd go further than that. In our view, we made two very consequential mistakes," the memo read. The note went on to state that they were "too optimistic" and "grew operating costs too quickly."
Zuckerberg expressed similar sentiments, also stating that there is "no good way" to conduct layoffs and that, like many people, he believed the economic "acceleration" from the pandemic would continue after the crisis ended.
"Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected," he wrote. "Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused our revenue to be much lower than I'd expected."
Layoff processes are "the ultimate test of a leadership team's empathy," Justin Schmidt, the vice president of marketing at Compt, told Insider. Schmidt has worked on layoffs, which those in the business world often refer to as "reductions in force," or RIFs. "People's lives get changed because of layoffs, and the entire process from decision through post-RIF support needs to serve one goal: Land them on their feet with their shoulders square and heads held high."
Stripe's memo praises the laid-off workers, stating that they would make "fantastic additions at almost any other company." Additionally, the company is creating "alumni.stripe.com" email addresses for laid-off employees and creating a new discounted tier for those who would like to start their own businesses and use Stripe's products.
"This was handled, in my opinion, the best way possible," Amy Spurling, the CEO and founder of Compt, said of Stripe's memo. "Everything that needed to happen, happened."
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly compared statements from Meta and Stripe CEOs warning of layoffs to an email laid-off Amazon employees received. The article also stated Amazon employees didn't receive a warning memo ahead of the action. However, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy had said in a January 4 statement that layoffs were pending.
An earlier version of this story appeared on November 5, 2022.
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