Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You are all fired

I found an article recently complaining about the way in which Microsoft told its workers that 18,000 of them were about to be laid off.  It got me thinking about how people desperately struggle to find alternate things to complain about when they feel like their actual grievance isn't going to get as much traction as they would like.  The article complains about legalese in the note to workers, complex instead of plain language, lack of specifics on who is being laid off, and lack of transparency among other things.  I want to illustrate how these sorts of complaints end up obfuscating the real issue and making things worse rather than better.

The article complains both that the company isn't being up front with the workers and that it isn't providing enough details, like a list of who is being let go.  The problem with these two complaints is that it is literally impossible to satisfy both.  18,000 workers aren't being chosen instantly and if the company is going to take the time to do it right it will take months to sort out who is leaving and who is staying.  If they state up front that the process is starting then they are accused of not providing details and if they figure out who is going before announcing it they are hiding something and not being transparent.

I totally get the desire to have communications like this be stated in simple, colloquial language but in this situation that simply isn't possible.  The notice is going around to 100,000 people.  It is ludicrous to imagine that it will contain personal details or be spoken in a fashion that will make all of them comfortable.  If it was a plain "Well, we gotta fire some people, you might be one of them" half of the people would complain that it dropped the hammer without the proper gravitas, that it wasn't taken seriously, and that proper reasons were not given.  We do know for sure that the notice was going to end up sent to shareholders, perused by lawyers looking for a reason to sue, picked apart by writers on the internet, and preserved for all eternity.  Given that I can't imagine that they wouldn't have an army of HR people, lawyers, and executives weigh in on it and end up with something without any fire and gumption.  With such a broad group of people reading it you can't hope to make everyone happy so you try to avoid legal messes and offense.

What people are really mad about is that Microsoft is laying off 18,000 people.  That sucks, particularly if you are one of those people.  Before whining about the tone of the layoff email though people should sit down and sort out what notice could actually be sent out to such a diverse group that would have made people happy... and then proceed to realize that no such composition exists.  No amount of correct wording or piece of additional information is going to soften the crushing blow of being suddenly unemployed.  No touching writing from the CEO is going to cause the workers to feel happy about job hunting.  There is little point in screaming "This sucks!" when you know that there was no choice that didn't suck just as much.


  1. Thankfully dodged the bullet on this one...

    - Jer