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  • Writer's pictureHannah Hamilton

Elon Musk is Creating a Trauma-Organized Twitter

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he was upfront and honest about wanting to reduce the staff by 50%. And in taking over a company that is operating at a loss, it made sense. What doesn’t make sense is the way the takeover and layoffs have been conducted. Musk paid $44 billion dollars to give me a perfect case example of how corporations are actively creating harm to their staff by leading in a traumatizing manner.


I imagine that many people might feel that saying a corporation being traumatizing is an overstatement when we also describe things like abuse, sexual assault, and war traumatizing. Historically, trauma has meant a person or group experiencing a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Personally, I think of trauma as any distressing event that we are unprepared for or helpless to do anything about.


So when I describe Elon Musk’s actions at Twitter as being traumatizing, I mean that he and his other leaders have created a distressing environment where people have been unprepared to manage the company's decisions and often have been helpless in what they can do. If we think of Twitter as currently being trauma-organized, we are saying that Twitter and Musk have been reactive and authoritarian and have created an environment where there is inequity, distress, and decreased engagement.


Reactive


While it is understandable for Twitter to layoff many of their staff due to their lack of profitability, there have been several mistakes made because they have approached these layoffs from a reactive stance. Initially, 3,700 were laid off. Many reported they weren’t told they were being fired, rather they found out through other means. Within days, it was reported from several sources that some staff were being asked to come back after being fired. This reactive and sweeping layoff led to losing individuals indiscriminately, distrust of leadership, and an environment of fear.


Later, Musk sent out an email giving staff an ultimatum to commit to “hardcore” work and told employees if they didn’t return in person to the office, they were fired. Staff weren’t told what their severance offer would be and had no clear vision of the next steps for Twitter. There was little information on how they could prepare for either next step and black-and-white expectations like Musk described often lead people to feel helpless. Ultimately, individuals who feel helpless will struggle with feeling capable of completing their work and will lose their creativity and innovation.


As the deadline approached and less employees committed to the “hardcore” work lifestyle than expected, Twitter reportedly was scrambling to call up critical staff and convince them to stay. Additionally, Musk somewhat softened Twitter’s stance on remote work and offered some staff $100,000 raises to stay on. Once again, this type of reactive leadership can lead employees to be fearful, angry, anxious, and helplessness.


Authoritarian Leadership


As Musk worked to make changes with Twitter, reducing workforce and starting the paid membership for verified checkmarks, many began criticizing his decisions. Shortly after, Elon Musk started firing people who were criticizing him and his actions. They were laid off via email in the middle of the night.


Later, when writing his “hardcore” Twitter email referenced above, Musk referenced individuals will need to work “long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.” He goes on to say that those who work in design and product management will be “very important and report to me, but those writing great code will constitute the majority of our team and have the greatest sway.” The expectation of perfection, the splitting of staff and the valuing inequity are all aspects of authoritarianism versus authoritative leadership.


The aggressive stance of authoritarian leadership creates an environment of fear and aggression. The trauma is often reenacted on others, creating a cascading effect of bullying and anger throughout the organization. Helplessness in the face of authoritarianism leads to decreased ability to make decisions and avoidance of situations at work that make them feel this way. Employees also may begin to feel like they cannot trust others and won’t approach coworkers or leaders with problems, leading problems to be discovered only once they have caused much difficulty.


Elon Musk could have laid off half of the Twitter staff as promised and done so in a trauma-informed manner instead of a trauma-organized manner. His actions and those of other Twitter leadership have been so severe and will likely destroy whatever employees remain at Twitter. In fact, some believe he bought Twitter with the intention to make it fail. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But what I do know is that his actions are harming Twitter’s employees.


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