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Musk’s Trump-style management rattles Twitter workers awaiting layoffs

Workers follow new boss’s tweets and share rumors on anonymous apps amid silence from leadership on firings, staff cuts and product changes

A week after Elon Musk took over the company and began firing top executives, Twitter employees haven't received any official announcements about the moves. (Amy Osborne for The Washington Post)
7 min

With rumors of impending layoffs by new owner Elon Musk swirling inside Twitter on Wednesday, an employee noticed that the Google Calendar of one of their new bosses was publicly viewable. On it was an entry at 5 p.m. that day titled “RIF Review” — an acronym for Reduction in Force, or layoffs.

Another Twitter employee was able to view a group on Slack, the workplace chat tool, in which company administrators appeared to be finalizing the precise number of workers to be laid off, and how much they’d receive in severance.

By day’s end, word had spread across the company that layoffs — half the staff — would probably come Friday, and that Musk would require Twitter’s remaining employees to return to the office full-time. But that word didn’t come from Musk, or anyone on his leadership team. It came via Blind, the anonymous workplace gossip site that some Twitter employees say has become their best, and often only, source of information about what’s going on inside the company in the chaotic, surreal week since Musk acquired it for $44 billion.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the company’s leadership has not confirmed the layoff plans.

Since Musk closed the deal on Oct. 27, employees say, they have not received a single official communication from anyone in a leadership position at the company. They have not been told that Musk completed the purchase, that their CEO and top executives were summarily fired, or that Musk dissolved the board and installed himself as chief executive.

On Oct. 27, Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter and began taking control of the social media company, firing several key executives. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Instead, they have read about Musk’s dramatic plans to overhaul the company via media reports, Musk’s tweets, back-channel private chats and Blind. Twitter’s formerly open corporate culture, centered on all-staff meetings and freewheeling Slack channels where employees and managers shared ideas, plans and jokes, has turned suspicious and secretive, said several Twitter employees who speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

“It’s like Twitter’s culture has been completely turned inside out overnight,” one employee said. “Mass trauma event over here.”

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The last official communication to the Twitter staff came the day before Musk took over, when Twitter’s head of people, Leslie Berland, sent a cheery email with the subject line “Elon office visit.”

“If you’re in SF and see him around, say hi!” Berland wrote. “For everyone else, this is just the beginning of many meetings and conversations with Elon, and you’ll all hear directly from him on Friday.”

But workers did not hear directly from Musk on Friday, when his planned introduction to the company was quietly canceled, or anytime since. The company’s regular all-hands meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, disappeared from everyone’s calendars on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Berland left the company, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Berland’s apparent departure, along with those of several other executives in recent days, was not announced either internally or externally, leaving employees to speculate on Blind about which of their bosses have quit or been fired.

Since Friday, employees have posted memes and comments on the company Slack noting each day that has passed without word from management. One person posted an image of a skeleton with a caption that read, “me waiting on updates from leadership,” according to documents obtained by The Post.

In lieu of communicating with employees, Musk and new deputy Jason Calacanis, who appeared in a company directory over the weekend, have been brainstorming, focus-grouping and announcing products and policies, via their personal Twitter accounts. Twitter employees quickly learned that they need to follow their new leaders’ Twitter feeds for updates essential to their work.

Musk’s inner circle worked through weekend to cement Twitter layoff plans

It is on Twitter that Musk confirmed that he had appointed himself chief executive, three days after taking ownership. It’s also where he floated plans to charge users $8 a month for a verification badge, among other benefits; announced that he will form a content-moderation council to review Twitter’s speech policies; and sought to soothe skittish advertisers that he won’t let Twitter become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

On the company’s Slack boards, employees have been posting Musk’s tweets about new features, asking whether they should begin working to implement them or continue standing by, according to another employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters. When Musk tweeted what features the company’s paid subscription tier should have, it caught most employees in the department running that product by surprise, the employee said.

“We’re all working for the Trump White House,” the worker said, comparing the atmosphere to Donald Trump’s administration, where tweets from the president announcing policies that hadn’t been discussed internally could come at any time.

The culture shock at Musk’s Twitter represents a collision between the company’s famously relaxed work environment and the walled-off climate typical of Musk’s companies, where leaks are punished swiftly and underperformers may be subject to “rage firings.” It’s also the product of fear of job losses, which was stoked when The Post reported before Musk’s takeover that he had told bankers he planned to cut as much as 75 percent of the company’s workforce.

Documents detail plans to gut Twitter's workforce

Inside Tesla and SpaceX, two of Musk’s other companies, workers are bound by the expectation that they will not speak of their work outside the company — knowing that a lens is trained on their celebrity CEO at all times. They are measured by their output and ability to execute on tight deadlines, and a minor disagreement with the CEO can sometimes escalate into questions about fitness for the job.

At Tesla, some leaks are investigated vigorously, and an employee was fired after he published videos to his YouTube channel showing the company’s Full Self-Driving Beta software in action — even though the videos did not reveal internal secrets, CNBC reported.

While some Twitter employees say they have languished since Musk took over, unsure of what to work on, other teams have been ordered to develop new products on tight deadlines. An internal email obtained by The Post on Tuesday showed that the company is aiming to launch a paid-video feature, which could be used to monetize adult content, within one to two weeks, despite an internal assessment that it poses a high liability risk.

Elon Musk’s Twitter is working on paid-video feature with ‘high’ risk

Blind has emerged as a way for Twitter employees to share anonymously what they are hearing with others in the company, reducing the risk that they will be punished for saying the wrong thing on company tools such as Slack or email. Launched in 2015, Blind has caught on with Silicon Valley tech companies, each of which has its own private channel that workers can access only by verifying their company email address.

It is there that many Twitter employees are hearing of the latest fired executive or layoff rumor and commiserating over the bizarre turn their professional lives have taken.

One Blind post from a Twitter worker, viewed by The Post on Wednesday, said simply, “This level of silent treatment is totally unprofessional.” Another Twitter employee replied, “It’s not silent treatment it is psychological warfare.”

The sense that it’s no longer safe for managers to share information with the staff via Slack was reinforced by an anecdote that appeared on Blind this week.

On Tuesday, Twitter’s chief of accounting, Robert Kaiden, had posted a Slack message — viewed by The Post — explaining some basic details of the company’s plan for paying out employees’ vested stock shares after Musk purchased them. By Wednesday, his Slack account showed that it had been deactivated. A post on Blind said he had been “walked out” of the Twitter building.

As with all the other executives who are rumored to have left since Musk took charge, Twitter declined to comment.

Faiz Siddiqui, Gerrit De Vynck, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Cat Zakrzewski and Taylor Lorenz contributed to this report.