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Ep13: The Truth behind the Twitter Layoffs (Part 2 of 2)

We speak to three experts including the ex-head of Wellness at Twitter, and seek out the truth behind the layoffs

In the previous episode, we left things on a bit of a bombshell – the Global Head of Wellness at Twitter was unsure if Twitter would survive!

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In this episode we have exclusive interviews with 3 industry insiders:

  1. We get the expert opinion on how the brand and PR were handled fromΒ Stephen Waddington, a PR guru, the visiting professor of PR for Newcastle University and a former head of CIPR.
  2. We get the Twitter inside story from Dr Candice Schaefer, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist & Mental Health and Wellness Strategist, and until earlier this year the Global Head of Employee Wellness at Twitter.
  3. We learn best the practice for managing crisis from Arun Krishnakumar, Graduate of the University of Oxford & London School of Economics, and author of ‘Restaup: A Founders Guide to Crisis Navigation’.

Let’s get stuck in!

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Al Elliott
Hello, and welcome to the truth lies and workplace culture podcast. My name is Al, I’m a business owner.

Leanne Elliott
My name is Leon. I’m a Business psychologist.

Al Elliott
And our podcast helps leaders to navigate the complex world of people and culture. None of nothing is quite as complex at the moment as our top story, which is Twitter. And the layoffs thing we

Leanne Elliott
said at the end of last episode that we’re going to separate this into two parts just because of the sheer volume of things to get through based on Elon Musk’s behaviour. And what is the continuing story at Twitter? Even in the last few days that we’ve seen further updates of Elon firing people via Twitter? I mean, it just it’s Don’t be I don’t have words, I don’t have words for just the pure, bad practice that we’re seeing from Elon Musk at the moment. But yes, how he has fired people via Twitter for quote shitposting about Twitter. I think we should talk about that in another episode, because I think that in itself is just flawed. There’s, they’re the people that you, you want to hear from anyone to influence changes in your business. But yes, and then now you’ve unlocked people out of Twitter offices, what what is going on over there?

Al Elliott
Now, I’d want to be very clear, we’re not necessarily like just shitting on Twitter. That’s not our plan. Here our plan is, in fact, what we did last in the last episode, we kind of broke it down into three sections, we looked at what the impact he’s doing, or he’s having on the business, what the impact is having on the brand. And then the impact is having on the people and and that’s what you’ve missed last time. So if you’ve not listened to the first episode, you can of course, listen to this one. But you’re missing all of the juicy bits. There’s, you’re missing all the meat in the pie, if that’s a weird, not a weird analogy, because in the last one, we started off, we kicked off with a timeline. And we talked through how it all started. And only only it’s only April, it all started. Then we talked about how three and a half 1000 or 3700, or something a number of employees remember how many employees were were laid off

Leanne Elliott
is estimated about 3700. But that probably doesn’t include contractors who have also lost their job. That’s it Twitter. And then of course, is isn’t a new thing or or standalone thing in the tech space. At the moment, we have about 1000 people have been laid off from stripe, a 700 from left, and most recently a huge 11,000 from matter. So as Al says we’re not hating on Twitter or Elon Musk here. This isn’t a unique problem within the tech industry at the moment. But what is bringing around an interesting point of discussion particularly for business leaders who might be faced with similar difficult decisions. And you would have learned this from the last episode. It’s not about making this commercial decision about how that decision is executed.

Al Elliott
Definitely. So we are still going to hear from our three guests. We’ve got Stephen Waddington, who is a PR expert, a professor of PR at Newcastle University and an ex head of the CIP or the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Then we’re going to hear from Arun Krishna karma, who’s an author and a tech analyst. And he has talked about he’s got a book called restart up a founders guide to crisis navigation.

Leanne Elliott
And finally, we’ll be hearing back from Dr. Candace Shafer who is a clinical psychologist and wellbeing expert. And most interestingly, for the purposes of this episode, is the former Global Head of employee wellness at Twitter, a post she held up until April 2022.

Al Elliott
So talking with Dr. Schaefer, we left the last episode on a little bit of a bombshell because we asked Candy’s will Twitter survive from this? Here’s what she had to say.

Dr Candice Schaefer
I don’t know, to be honest, I think Facebook has gone through such a metamorphosis. No pun intended that, but Twitter I don’t I, I am afraid Twitter will not recover from this.

Leanne Elliott
So in this part of the episode, we’re going to look at the current situation and the future. So what is the impact of the layoffs, on leaders? Let’s be honest, you know, we’ve centred very much on criticising some of the approaches certain leaders have made. But of course, psychologically, mentally, this isn’t always an easy process for leaders to go through. So we’re going to we’re going to reflect on that a little bit. We’re also going to talk a little bit about my experience being made redundant. I do empathise so much and it is one of the most difficult challenges. So So yeah, we’re going to talk openly about, about my experiences. And then of course, you know, if you have been impacted by the redundancies, what steps you can take next to look after yourself, and to get back out there and find your next opportunity. I mean, for somebody like Dr. Candace, just say, you know, she’s not sure Twitter will make it I It really does really just make the point so powerfully that how leaders approach people, approach culture, how they treat their people really can commercially be a make or break moment is kind of sad that this is a heartbreaking situation. And you do have to think about the people who are still at Twitter who are dealing with this aftermath and what’s left of the culture. Let’s see what kind of thinks

Dr Candice Schaefer
I kind of feel like, and for the people that I do know, that are still there. There’s a lot of survivor guilt, you know, it’s similar to, you know, people who survive a traumatic event, like and not everybody does you feel guilty? Why did I get picked? Why? Why am I still here? And then not only that, you have this basically, like bombshell of you’re over half the workforce is gone, you don’t know who is still alive, you go through slack and see who’s deactivated and who’s still there. It’s it’s just this constant trauma, almost like of going through a war. And you’re not sure who survived on the other side, why did you deserve to survive? Green thing, the people who are no longer there, there’s a great, great sense of grief, I think, in losing the Twitter that you once knew, if you really were involved with culture knew what it what it was like, and knowing that it’s never going to be the same. And I don’t think there’s really any way to get that back.

Leanne Elliott
So that’s the view of the culture, Twitter. But what about other organisations stripe left matter? What challenges are these leaders going to be facing over the next six to 12 months?

Dr Candice Schaefer
I think culture morale, keeping people productive, keeping people wanting to be motivated for the mission of the company, is going to be the hardest thing. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around where these companies are going, what they’re going to be creating, and is it stable. And if you have a company that’s unstable, on unstable ground, your employees are constantly going to be in a fearful mindset that it could be them next. They may not have a job tomorrow. And so you have people who are looking for other jobs, and not being committed to potentially what it is that’s playing out at your company. So I think there’s a tonne of risk in cutting too many people because you’re going to take away a lot of the culture that made the company as attractive as it is.

Al Elliott
I’m curiously I’m would you pay for this pay $8 for the Bluetec politics?

Leanne Elliott
Do you know why right is because I see the blue tick is almost like a way of like a guarantee that I’m speaking to the right person, or I don’t understand how I’d be able to tell the difference between like a clone account or a fake account, versus the real one. If they’ve both got a blue tick.

Al Elliott
I think Steven kind of agrees.

Steven Waddington
Do you know what I thought hard about this? Because again, there’s a backlash from users saying how cross and angry they are, actually, if he explain to me how paying a subscription fee, and I’ve run the numbers, by the way, $8 doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make a sustainable business, it probably needs to be more than that. But if he explained how he was going to reinvest that $8 a month in creating a sustainable business model out of Twitter and a platform that was the safe environment, then yeah, I would absolutely pay because Twitter has brought me a tonne of value through my life, my wife on on Twitter. I’ve met countless people on Twitter. It’s just brilliant, brilliant, public space for for conversation, and he’s destroying the value. So

Leanne Elliott
let’s take some time to reflect on the lessons learned. If you are a business owner, there are some Yeah, even a small business. There are definitely some lessons that we can take from this. And I’m sure you’ve drawn your own conclusions already. But let’s flip it. I mean, what impact does the layoffs have on the actual leaders of the organisation

Arun Krishnakumar
a lot, actually, in terms of what founders have to go through when they fire staff? I spoke to several of them. I had 49 interviews for that book, actually. But CEOs and VCs, and for it’s not easy on the founders, they get into mental health issues when they go through a firing spree. The second thing is the the number of measures. The founders I’ve spoken to have taken, took during the COVID period was, I mean, one was, for instance, how can we protect our ground level staff or the grassroots of the organisation by the management and and some of this A senior leadership senior executives taking a 30% cut in their salary, a 40%, cut in their salaries. And then mid tier managers, you go and give them an option saying you can lose your whole team. Or you can take a standard cut across the organisation. So many of the CEOs that I interviewed said, people were willing to take cuts of 30 40% on their salaries than losing their team.

Leanne Elliott
And also had I thought was really brilliant insight into maybe taking a different approach before you look at redundancies is that final straw? You know, we’ve talked about disengagement on this podcast, you know, talked about quit quitting, let’s put that in the context of layoffs,

Arun Krishnakumar
there was one amazing insight that came from from an investor in Silicon Valley where he had been through the process with two companies, and where before he even identified people who were supposed to be let go off on for various reasons. He would spot people who were who he thought were anyways planning to leave the organisation. So if 10% of your organisation are planning to get out of the door anyways, get them out of the door, first, give them a smaller severance package, because they will be happy to leave anyways. And that reduces the number of people that you have to fire by 10%, which can be a big number in these in these times. So figure out every single way that you can protect your employees. And once you’ve done that, do not go about beating the bush, just do it.

Leanne Elliott
So I think at this point, it’s really important that we make a distinction between Twitter and Stripe, it is not a direct comparison. Stripe is responding to an economic downturn. Twitter is respond to that plus in the acquisition. So this scenario is very, very different. I asked Dr. Candace, what advice she’d offer to any business leaders out there who might be going through a merger or acquisition and how they might manage layoffs effectively, and most importantly, protect employee wellbeing.

Dr Candice Schaefer
I cannot recommend enough and appropriately planned change management process because really, as human beings, and as a psychologist, I know this in trying to help people change for the better if people don’t like change, they they are afraid of change, it’s uncertainty. And so the more you can craft communications, give appropriate training and really communicate to your employees in a way that makes them feel safe. Or at least they know what direction things are going can really be a valuable tool.

Leanne Elliott
And I think the thing is, you know, transparency and honesty, as we’ve said before is so so important. When I asked Dr. Canis about this, I thought she summed it up beautifully.

Dr Candice Schaefer
They’re letting employees know, right, like we knew Mehta had I think let people know, at the beginning of the week or late last week that layoffs were coming, the days of infinite money in tech companies has come to a stop, I do think there are ways to message what is going on in the world and relating that to what is happening in the business and kind of making the connections between the two. And then giving more of the why. Why we’ve made this decision because people also want to understand why you’re cutting certain departments, how did you even make these choices? And it still may not satisfy someone’s need for answers. But at least you’re you’re trying to answer them you’re trying to be transparent. And what I’ve seen over a lot of the research that’s come out from like Gallup Institute is really people want a transparent environment, they want to know what is going on, at least to the extent that they can know, because it makes them feel both trusted and that they aren’t being lied to.

Leanne Elliott
So while this is a huge media story, is also a human story. We will be offering some advice and support for those who have been affected by the layoffs, both Twitter at stripe and the other tech companies, but also if you’re just listening and you’re going through this, stay tuned. We’ve got some tips for you. Okay, so

Al Elliott
I think there are, there’s a lot of people who are qualified to talk about this but Leanne’s not only a business psychologist, but she also went through redundancy, while about seven years ago was it

Leanne Elliott
I did, I was made redundant back in 2015. And I kind of saw it coming but not entirely. It was one of the most challenging experiences I have ever been to emotionally psychologically it was a real real strain. Talking to cameras understands this, and she helps explain what we go through in this state

Dr Candice Schaefer
to really because people will go into a panic state, once they find out that this is going to happen. And when people panic, it’s hard to get them to think rationally. So there’s almost like needs to be a cooling down period, as well for that prefrontal cortex get back online and be able to use that rational side of our brain.

Al Elliott
So I have a question then. So redundancies clearly a traumatic and emotional experience. Is there a particular scientific or psychological reason why this is? Yeah,

Leanne Elliott
so I think you know, Dr. Ken has mentioned our brains don’t like change, they don’t like to feel uncomfortable, they don’t like uncertainty, a little bit is good, too much. Not so much. So when we feel this, this threat, you’ve heard of the threat response, or what’s better known as fight or flight, so fight or flight means that the brain and the body is getting ready to deal with the threat, and basically send energy to those parts of the body that will help protect us whether that’s to run, or whatever it is, we need to do. So specifically fight or flight arouses the amygdala. Now bear with me, I’m gonna go a bit neuroscience on your, but I’m going to take it slowly. Okay. So the amygdala is the part of the brain that controls our emotions and our motivations. So this arousal triggers a physiological reaction, our heart rate increases, our digestion slows, our immune system is suppressed, cortisol or stress hormone increases, and the blood vessels in our muscles dilate. So as a result, blood flows away from our prefrontal cortex. This is where we do all work instead of thinking and planning and manage our emotions. And it just leaves us it leaves us so what we’re left with, then well, we can’t think is clearly we become anxious. We view lots of different things as threats, including people around us, our psychological capital, or our ability to be hopeful or optimistic goes out the window, and our stress levels go through the roof. It really is a physiological and psychological reaction that happens when we’re in this threats threat state when we’re made redundant. It is a debilitating psychological reaction.

Al Elliott
So what does all this science mean for the people who’ve actually been made redundant?

Leanne Elliott
Well, it’s really flippin inconvenient, to be honest. I mean, let’s imagine we’re just at the point where we need to be sharp, we need to try and make some sense of this. And we need to make some really big life decisions. But the chemistry in our brain, AI psychology is basically being thrown around like a jumper in a tumble dryer, our brains feel so overwhelmed and fuzzy, and the simplest of decisions can be difficult will last they would process new ideas, we can’t think creatively, we also start to see our tribe, the people around us as a threat. So affiliate fellow colleagues that either have been made redundant, or may have remained in the organisation, we see them as the enemy, we see them as is the blocker to was getting that new job. And that just adds to all the stress and emotions. So all in all, it’s a great place to be when you’re embarking on a job search that requires you to be mentally sharp and emotionally resilient. It’s just marvellous.

Al Elliott
I’m guessing that’s your English sarcasm there. So you spoke to Candice about this, didn’t you?

Leanne Elliott
I did. Unfortunately, there are some actions that you can take. You know, as kindness explains, while she does make some reference to, to twist it in particular, there are lots of transferable tips in there. So let’s have a listen.

Dr Candice Schaefer
Pay time, honestly, like, take time to process what it is that you feel. And try to understand it. Talk with people who are supportive in your life and really get those feelings out. Because you don’t want to carry those and there will still be a bit of a scar there from what happened. But making sure that you have supportive people around you who can help you through that process. And ultimately, the the amount of tweet, or Twitter alumni is just amazing. Like I think, again, it speaks to our culture of everyone who’s been through Twitter is still supporting those that are looking for jobs or want to talk to somebody. I’ve probably gotten at least 20 requests and forwarded those resumes on to people that I know. And so I think it’s a natural time for people to want to isolate. Depending if you know you’re feeling embarrassed or really just upset, angry. But try not to because surrounding yourself with the people who support you can be more valuable than than anything and there’s a strong network for culture at Twitter, especially.

Al Elliott
So obviously we were together when you were going through your redundancy. And I remember you likening it I don’t know if there’s big Getting your middle or the end to the five stages of grieving. So can you talk us through how that affected you? And also remind us what these five stages are?

Leanne Elliott
Absolutely, I definitely felt like that. And yeah, I think it took me a couple of stages in to make this connection, although it is one that the other writers and psychologists have made. I think this is a word kind of doctor canister saying Give yourself time. You know, we look at the stages of grief, you’re probably heard of them. First denial and anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I mean, you know, I talked about theory and talk about evidence, there is conflicting arguments about how exactly this works, whether it’s linear, whether it’s not whether you finish one stage and move on. But I absolutely having been through, I don’t see myself totally connected with these stages and how I was feeling. So I think that’s the thing you know, if this gives you a vocabulary, if this resonates with you and how you’re feeling, then go with it, you know, keep it keep a little journal, write down how you’re feeling that day, see if you can place yourself, you know, am I feeling angry, I started to feel depressed. And really just just help yourself work through those emotions, as Dr. Canvas says, you really have to feel it. And I think with that in mind, as well, you know, self compassion is so important during times like these, go easy on yourself. This is a trauma, this is absolutely a work trauma that you are going through. And I know from my experience, it’s one of the most challenging times you’re likely to go through in terms of your career. So be kind to yourself, find ways to calm your mind and your body, you know, mindfulness, exercise, they’re all good ways to go. And I think the danger is that often people will start to neglect these habits, if they already have them as part of their routine, please don’t keep them up, they’ll play a vital role, both in your mental well being and in your job search strategy.

Al Elliott
So if you’ve got any practical steps, any of our experts winning practical steps to get around this,

Leanne Elliott
I think in terms of the practical steps, of course, one, update your resume, and update with a viewpoint of your achievements, what have you really delivered in that role? Consider engaging an expert and we now have some excellent resume writing services that you can access that are cost effective, and others that are a bit more bougie. So if you do want to hear about those, do drop us an email, we’ll give all the details in the show notes. And yet reach out to recruiters, there are so many great reactions on LinkedIn, the moment from recruiters or the tech companies that are reaching out to people who have been made redundant. Use your network, make those connections, people are in empathetic space right now. So yeah, make sure you get the help you asked for that help. Can it also advise us to consider roles outside of tech, your skills may be transferable, let’s hear about that.

Dr Candice Schaefer
Engineers have a lot of use in other industries besides Tech, I get it tech is sexy, it has a lot of global recognition, it’s and it’s honestly like sometimes fun. And sometimes not that you work for such a brand name company that everyone knows, you’ll get a lot of questions. But you also get a lot of opinions about your platform and what you’re doing and how you impact it. But to have maybe a less high profile role or company can sometimes be a good backup.

Al Elliott
So the here is the end of part two of what is probably the longest episode we’ve ever done here, but it definitely is. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’ve got any feedback or thoughts, you know how to find us just go to Twitter and search for truth lies work. In fact, search any of the social networks, I think we’re truth lives work and all of them. If you do want the full story and you want the full interviews, then go to truth lives and work.com forward slash join. That’s truth lies and then the word and work.com Join and that you’ll join us in our back was not really got a name for it. I’ve started calling it culture ologists. But I don’t think that’s going to be the name we’re going to use. And it’s just like behind the scenes and stuff. So check the show notes and you’re going to see links to Stephens, Twitter, massively knowledgeable and amazing person all about PR and also just a genuinely nice guy as well. So definitely go and check him out. If you’re interested in Allen’s book, then it’s called restart up a founders guide to crisis navigation available on Amazon. Link will be in the show notes. And Candice has got a Twitter as well, Leanne, hasn’t she? I think

Leanne Elliott
she’s certainly has relieved everybody’s social handles in the shownotes and will no doubt tag them in our socials as well as our said, Twister, although we might get banned now. Twitter, Facebook, while the other ones Instagram Tik Tok, truth lies work or you can also email us at Truth lives. work@gmail.com

Al Elliott
Okay, so next week, what are we doing? What are we talking about, Leanne?

Leanne Elliott
Well, I think we’re gonna carry on with Elon theme just because he’s around but you Yes, I think we’ve mentioned in this episode before, that my thesis was in the dark side of personality traits. And in particular, what happens to leaders when they start to get out of control? Is this going to be the end of Elon Musk? I’m going to talk to an absolute expert in the Hogan development survey. And we’re going to delve into the dark side of Elon.

Al Elliott
So remember, if you’ve not yet done it to then click that subscribe button and make sure that that all of our future episodes comes right into your inbox. If you’ve enjoyed this, help us out, tell someone about it. Share it on your own Twitter, maybe you’re not Twitter, maybe share your own social networks, Twitter, and and we’re always open to feedback. We’d love to hear from you so you know where to find us. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Time for bed, time for bed and a cup of tea.

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