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Elon Musk just showed us how not to fire people

The billionaire’s takeover of Twitter would make a good case study for MBA programs on the wrong way to downsize

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

It’s quite fitting that Elon Musk briefly changed his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit” after his takeover of the company last month.

“Twit” literally means fool.

Much has been made of the billionaire’s moves to charge users for little blue check marks or the possibility that porn may well become a serious revenue source on the social media site. But what really stands out is the egregious way he laid off thousands of employees, unwittingly serving up the perfect case study on how not to downsize.

Business school deans take note: Incorporate the layoff debacle in your MBA studies. You are responsible for helping train future managers and business owners on how to be decent to the people they let go.

The layoff survival guide: What to do before, during and after

Twitter began the layoffs last week. Though it wouldn’t say how many of its 7,500 workers lost their jobs, news reports estimate roughly half did.

The trifling way it dismissed employees was akin to breaking up with someone over a text message. It was disrespectful and insensitive. It demonstrated a blatant lack of empathy.

Musk prides himself on being all about free speech. He worships at the altar of tweeting what’s on his mind, with little regard for consequences.

Yet, he fell silent in the days before upending all those workers’ lives.

“Looks like I’m unemployed y’all,” one manager tweeted. “Just got remotely logged out of my work laptop and removed from Slack.”

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Musk opted to tweet to his nearly 115 million followers about the precipitous drop in revenue from advertisers concerned about content on Twitter, but he didn’t have the decency to have a corporate-wide meeting and face his staff — people with mortgages, rent payments, auto loans, child-care expenses and possibly caregiving responsibilities for elderly parents.

Elon Musk’s Twitter layoffs, explained

Where was Musk’s fervent and very public commentary when he was deciding their fates?

Workers had to follow Musk’s Twitter feed to decipher what might be in store for them in the lead-up to the announcement. And many who were kicked to the curb weren’t informed by Musk or Twitter’s managers; they figured it out when their work email stopped working, according to news reports.

“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce,” the notification said.

Here’s another indication of how badly Musk mucked up the firings.

Absurdly, the company has been scrambling to rehire some workers who were just let go. The mass confusion continues, and Musk does not appear to be altering his strategy in any way.

In the days since the layoffs, canned workers have been posting about their terminations on Twitter under the hashtags “#OneTeam” and “#LoveWhereYouWorked.”

Musk had time to retweet — then delete — a false report about the brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, but a personal note to employees, even to say “See ya,” was just too much for the bombastic billionaire.

A class-action lawsuit has already been filed, accusing the company of failing to comply with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (or Warn Act), which requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 calendar days’ advance written notice of a mass layoff.

Whining about the financial quagmire the company’s facing and the backlash about the firings, Musk tweeted this: “Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day.”

Opinion: World’s richest man decides to set $44 billion on fire

Just wow.

Might I point out that part of the reason Twitter is in trouble is the $13 billion in debt Musk, the richest man in the world, used to purchase Twitter? The company owes about $1 billion a year in interest payments. He paid $44 billion for a company that he knew lost hundreds of millions last year.

Advertisers fleeing, workers in fear: Welcome to Elon Musk’s Twitter

Here’s an idea: Anyone who will be responsible for laying someone off should watch the 2009 film “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert who travels the country terminating people in person. He does it as humanely as one can, given the circumstances. But a new co-worker, played by Anna Kendrick, thinks face-to-face firing can be replaced by videoconferencing to save on travel expenses.

Both approaches will leave dismissed employees dejected, but at least when you’re sitting in front of them, showing sincere sympathy for their job loss, you can “make limbo tolerable,” Clooney says in one scene.

“There is a methodology to what I do. There’s a reason why it works,” Clooney says in another scene. “… What we do here is brutal, and it does leave people devastated, but there is a dignity to the way I do it.”

The right thing to do was for Musk to fly his private jet to the cities where people were being laid off and explain — not through any of his minions or via tweet — the business decision to sacrifice them to save the company he loaded up with a massive amount of debt.

Musk should have personally thanked axed employees for their contributions to Twitter before pushing them out the door.

That’s what a compassionate leader does. But Musk has only proved he is a chief twit.

Michelle Singletary on inflation and personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

Recession-proof your life: The tsunami of troubling economic news is taking its toll on consumers, investors, borrowers, and would-be homeowners. There are some practical steps you can take to help shield you from the worst that could lie ahead.

Credit card debt: It is the worst debt to carry in good times. Here are seven ways to lower your credit card debt in light of this latest Fed rate hike and additional increases that probably are coming soon.

Watch: Michelle Singletary gives seven tips to protect yourself whether a recession is coming or not.

Money moves: With the stock market crashing and inflation rising, people are desperately looking for a place to park their extra cash. If you’ve got money sitting around earning a little more than 1 percent, if that much, I bonds are an attractive deal.

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