As a veteran of the aerospace industry, I’m very familiar with layoff notices. During the almost-decade I spent working for Boeing, I survived probably a dozen major reductions in force, and they all had two things in common: a plainly stated promise of an open and transparent process and a hilariously terrible lack of actual transparency.
Well, congratulations to Satya Nadella and the Microsoft HR and communications teams, because you’re stealing from the best—or maybe you all took the same course in corporate doubletalk and truthiness as part of your MBA programs. Microsoft this morning announced far and away the largest round of layoffs in its history, and Nadella’s e-mail drips with that familiar mixture of faux sympathy and non-information that is so typical of carefully managed corporate communication.
There’s a name for this kind of uninformative spin-talk: it’s known as “ducking and fucking.”
This, sadly, is not a Microsoft-specific issue; it’s standard all across not just the tech industry but essentially every large American company.
The first sentence of any story sets the tone—and look at the robo-sentence the Microsoft layoff notification e-mail starts off with:
Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company.
Leading off with a sentence like this immediately creates distance between the reader and the speaker—the kind of distance necessary to dehumanize both parties so that the big blow to come hurts less. The corporate-speak continues with creaky euphemism after creaky euphemism, including using the phrase “workforce realignment” instead of simply saying “staff reduction” or “layoff.” People and corporations both use euphemisms to cloak unpleasantness; however, it’s much more honest and personal to simply speak the unadorned truth when dealing with people’s livelihoods. “We’re going to realign our work force” might sound a lot better than “we’re firing 18,000 people,” but the latter more properly informs employees that jobs are going to be lost and lives are going to be affected.
“synthesizing a strategic direction”, right? If you were up until that minute the person responsible for corporate strategic direction, that is the very last thing you care about. Because it has instantly become completely irrelevant to you. Forever. So, yeah, great way to start.
and don’t get me started on how you talk about Microsoft’s strategy is focused on productivity and our desire to help people “do more” and then listing XBox as an example.