In the case of good employees who are being let go through no fault of their own, those conversations benefit the employer, too, because people remember how they’re treated in their lowest moments — and word spreads fast. Future hiring prospects will be reading all about it on Twitter or Glassdoor. In a tight labor market, a company’s cruelty can leave a lasting stain on its reputation.
Perhaps the most appalling aspect of termination by email is the asymmetry between what corporations expect of their workers and how they treat them in return. Employees in all kinds of jobs are routinely pressed to give the maximum that they can. In low-wage service jobs that can mean insane, unpredictable hours with no benefits. At higher-paying tech jobs it can mean sacrificing any semblance of a life outside of the office, a requirement that is often justified by high-minded rhetoric about changing the world or the promise of some pot-of-gold reward in an unspecified future.
The expectation that an employee give at least two weeks notice and help with transition is rooted in a sense that workers owe their employers something more than just their labor: stability, continuity, maybe even gratitude for the compensation they’ve earned.
But when it’s the company that chooses to end the relationship, there is often no such requirement. The same people whose labor helped build the company get suddenly recoded as potential criminals who might steal anything that’s not nailed down.
At Twitter, where Elon Musk has embraced managerial incompetence as if it’s an emerging art form that requires great creativity, employees were asked to sign a pledge to be “hard core,” working even longer hours and sleeping in the office if necessary. Unsurprisingly, many instead decided to preserve their family lives and self-respect.
For them, this was just the first indignity. Many terminated employees found that their severance offers didn’t materialize for months — and some were called back to work when it turned out the site couldn’t run without them. One employee who early on went to LinkedIn to write “Elon’s my new boss and I’m stoked!” reportedly didn’t make it through the first round of layoffs.
Approval of unions is already at 71 percent. Dehumanizing workers like this is accelerating the trend. Once unthinkable, unionization at large tech companies now seems all but inevitable.
Treating employees as if they’re disposable units who can simply be unsubscribed to ultimately endangers a company’s own interests. It seems mistreated workers know their value, even if employers — as they are increasingly prone to demonstrate — do not.
Elizabeth Spiers, a contributing Opinion writer, is a journalist and digital media strategist. She was the editor in chief of The New York Observer and the founding editor of Gawker.
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