Monday, April 17, 2023
HomeTechSacked to the future | Financial Times

Sacked to the future | Financial Times

“Of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news / Don’t want to be it but it’s needed so what have you?” — André 3000

A lot of (probably smart, well-remunerated) tech sector workers have lost their jobs recently, with Spotify one of the latest to swing the axe. A tracker can be found here.

On a micro level, this is obviously very sad: losing your job sucks, especially if you were relying upon your employer’s support for, say, medical bills or a visa.

On a macro level, here is a selection of responses you might have to this [delete/add as appropriate]:

— tech companies were swollen; cuts are difficult but, in the long run, healthy
— these cuts should be looked at in the context of the huge hiring many did last year. Net, many have still grown
— skilled workers getting fired is a Schumpeterian catalyst
— 🎻👌

To hand wave, it will be years, decades maybe, before we really understand the economics impact these firing have.

One thing we have got, right now, are the sacking letters. Just as war often proves to be an incubator of innovation, lay-off rounds provide a unique insight into the latest developments in the world of corporate comms.

How, in 2023, do you tell someone they’ve been sacked? Here are Alphaville’s linguistic takeaways.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft (January 18th, 10,000 sackings/5 per cent of employees)

Calling a letter a “communication” is weird. Imagine if children sent Father Christmas a “communication” with their gift demands each year.

Also, “focusing” on “short-term and long-term opportunity” is meaningless unless what you’re actually saying is there are medium-term opportunities you intend to neglect.

Nadella (our emphasis):

We know this is a challenging time for each person impacted. The senior leadership team and I are committed that as we go through this process, we will do so in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

OK then.

When I think about this moment in time, the start of 2023, it’s showtime — for our industry and for Microsoft. As a company, our success must be aligned to the world’s success.

The most culturally prominent “It’s showtime!”, per Google, is Mr Incredible’s use of the phrase in 2004’s The Incredibles. The flabby, past-his-prime superhero then struggles to do exercises, before spending much of the movie getting bodied by an artificial intelligence. No conceivable referential traps for Microsoft there.

Rating 8/10: Delivers the message with a healthy dose of terrifying ambiguity.

Mark Zuckerberg, Meta (November 9th, 11,000 sackings/13 per cent of employees)

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.

Cambridge Online Dictionary

With that in mind, Zuck’s definition of accountability/responsibility is unlikely to extend to, for instance, dwelling on whether he is the best person to lead the company he founded.

At the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of ecommerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected. 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. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that . ..

. . . I’ve also made the hard decision to let people go.

I take responsibility, you lose your job. Sorry. We suppose making everything about yourself kinda fits the overall Meta product USP.

We made the decision to remove access to most Meta systems for people leaving today given the amount of access to sensitive information.

It’s good to see where Meta draws the line on the handling of sensitive information.

Rating 2/10: The elephant in the room whispers softly as you’re crushed against the wall.

Daniel Ek, Spotify (January 23rd, 600 sackings/6 per cent of workforce)

As we say in our Band Manifesto, change is the only constant. For this reason, I continue to reiterate that speed is the most defensible strategy a business can have. But speed alone is not enough. We must also operate with efficiency . ..

While we have made great progress in improving speed in the last few years, we haven’t focused as much on improving efficiency. We still spend far too much time syncing on slightly different strategies, which slows us down.

We’re not certain that “speed” is the solution to the problem of change, or that “speed” is, in and of itself, a strategy.

Over the next several hours, one-on-one conversations will take place with all impacted employees.

“Impacted” broadly means, we suppose, fired.

I take full accountability for the moves that got us here today.


In almost all respects, we accomplished what we set out to do in 2022 and our overall business continues to perform nicely.

If your boss ever says your company is performing “nicely”, run.

Rating 4/10: Less speed, more haste.

Patrick Collison, Stripe (November 3rd, around 1,000 sackings/14 per cent of workforce)

We’re reducing the size of our team by around 14 per cent and saying goodbye to many talented Stripes in the process. If you are among those impacted, you will receive a notification email within the next 15 minutes. 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 . ..

We overhired for the world we’re in (more on that below), and it pains us to be unable to deliver the experience that we hoped that those impacted would have at Stripe.

A theme emerging from these letters is that “impacted” means “fired” and “responsible” means “sad but unfired”.

Rating 5/10: Mediocre, but at least sacked employees are spared any extra suspense.

Andy Jassy, Amazon (January 5th, 18,000 workers sacked)

These changes will help us pursue our long-term opportunities with a stronger cost structure; however, I’m also optimistic that we’ll be inventive, resourceful, and scrappy in this time when we’re not hiring expansively and eliminating some roles.

Important to emphasise here the difference being drawn between “resourceful”, as in ‘inventive/innovative’, and the state of being full of resources.

To those impacted by these reductions, I want you to know how grateful I am for your contributions to Amazon, and the work you have done on behalf of customers. You have made a meaningful difference in a lot of customers’ lives. To those who will continue on the journey with us, I look forward to partnering with you to keep making life better and easier for customers every day and relentlessly inventing to do so.

“Oh my God, I just got an email, I’ve been impacted by the reductions.”

Rating 6/10: Scrappy.

Sundar Pichai, Alphabet (January 20th, 12,000 sackings)

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. 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.

“Responsibility” strikes again.

I’m sure you have many questions about how we’ll move forward. We’ll be organizing a town hall on Monday. Check your calendar for details. Until then, please take good care of yourselves as you absorb this difficult news. As part of that, if you are just starting your work day, please feel free to work from home today.

Divide and conquer, in action.

Rating 5/10: Meh.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce (January 4th, 8,000 sackings, 10 per cent of workforce)

As our revenue accelerated through the pandemic, we hired too many people leading into this economic downturn we’re now facing, and I take responsibility for that.

I’m grateful for every single one of you who has contributed to our continued success as a company, and the hard work and sacrifices you have made to generate success for our hundreds of thousands of customers. You’ve built our company — for all of our stakeholders — and you’ve shown incredible resilience every step of the way.

Unfortunately, as said resilience was being shown, Salesforce was overhiring. Tough luck.

Rating 4/10: Hug, cry, leave.

Jennifer Tejada, PagerDuty (January 24th, approx 65 sackings/7 per cent of employees)

This company is far smaller than the others in this post, but we may never again see a public-company executive operate at this level (v Rusty Foster).

It’s truly a pinnacle of the genre. With our emphasis here and below:

After considering a range of approaches for strengthening the company as we move forward, we are further refining our operating model as we work to increase our capacity while improving our cost structure, focusing our efforts, and improving our return on investments. 

Additional refinements we are implementing today include: 

– Eliminating roughly 7% of roles globally, the vast majority of which are in North America, primarily in our go-to-market and G&A organizations;

– Reducing discretionary spend;

– Negotiating more favorable commercial agreements with key vendors;

-Rationalizing our real estate footprint to reflect the realities of our distributed-by-design hybrid work model . . . 

You’re not being laid off! You’re being refined.

Elsewhere in the letter:

I regard Dutonians as more than employees; they are accomplished, deeply talented individuals who #BringThemselves and drive the innovation and culture behind our products and services to deliver experiences that delight our customers. I appreciate each and every Dutonian’s contribution to PagerDuty. It is my expectation that we show all of our colleagues the grace, respect, and dignity they have earned. As someone who has worked in this industry for decades, I have experienced this before and it is never easy, and I also know from experience that while we may not work together in the short term, our relationships and this community live beyond our tenure at PagerDuty.

Where to even begin??

“Dutonians” . . . #BringThemselves . . . to “delight our customers” with incident-response support for companies’ IT departments. What a “community”!

None of this would be possible without you, our leadership, and our board — thank you for your grit and resilience, your commitment to our customers and your support of our values and people. I am reminded in moments like this, of something Martin Luther King said, that “the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy.” PagerDuty is a leader that stands behind its customers, its values, and our vision — for an equitable world where we transform critical work so all teams can delight their customers and build trust. 

Incredible. Not only did she include a Martin Luther King Jr. quote in a companywide email about layoffs, she girlboss-ified it by removing the word “man”.

Rating 10/10: No notes. It’s beautiful. We are awestruck.

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