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Microsoft EVP Stephen Elop's Layoff Memo: By the Way, You Might Not Have a Job Next Year

Yesterday, the hinted-at changes in Microsoft's workforce took shape and heft, to the tune of 18,000 job cuts over the next year. The figure represents about 14 percent of Microsoft's workforce. The majority of those cuts, 12,500 jobs, will come in Microsoft's devices and services unit, which absorbed Nokia last year. How did workers in the mobile unit discover this? In the eleventh paragraph of a memo from former Nokia CEO and current Microsoft executive vice president Stephen Elop.

stephen elop 

(Photo Credit: luca.sartoni/Flickr)

The text of Elop's email was posted to Microsoft's corporate site, but the highlights are:

1. The email begins with "hello there." In his commentary on Elop's email, New York magazine's Kevin Roose points out that this sounds more like "the start to a bad OKCupid message" than a salutation in a business memo, let alone one that's announcing a layoff.

2. The first possible hint of impending doom is in the second paragraph, when Elop uses the always-dreaded phrase "focus our efforts." In corporate speak, this often seems to mean that one person will be asked to do three jobs, because two other people will shortly be collecting unemployment.

3. The hammer begins to descend in the third paragraph, with "Our device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope. Therefore, we plan to make some changes."

4. There are then seven paragraphs of strategy, involving the place for mobile devices both within Microsoft and the market at large, before Elop unveils the bottom line: "We plan that this would result in an estimated reduction of 12,500 factory direct and professional employees over the next year. These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members with severance benefits."

5. While there are plenty of the usual layoff buzzwords, including "right-size" and "phased exit," the words "thank you," or "sorry" don't appear once. "Difficult" and "necessary" are about as close the memo gets, in terms of expressing regret or appreciation.

What's the lesson here? Well, if you're an executive faced with the unpleasant task of lowering the boom on several thousand of your colleagues, no one will like what you have to say. But how you say it might mean the difference between internal grumbling and getting made fun of by the press for a day or two after your assistant hits "send."

Of course, if your goal is to be honest, forthright, and respectful of your soon-to-be erstwhile co-workers, cut to the chase. The explanation for the reasons behind the layoff -- and the reassurance to remaining staff that the company has a vision for the future -- can come afterward. Don't make people play "Where's Waldo?" with their own layoff notification.

If you're a worker at any level, the other message is clear: companies are rarely loyal to their employees, no matter how dedicated the workers are or how many years they've put in. Do your best work, earn your paycheck, but keep your eyes on the prize. Unfortunately, in today's business climate, the only loyalty you can afford to have is to your own career.

You never know what kind of email could be lurking in your inbox.

Tell Us What You Think

What's the worst layoff story you've ever heard? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. 1 wallace niebel 29 Jul
    When I was laid off from The Pacific Lumber Company in Scotia, CA. During my "exit" interview the "HR" gal said[direct quote] "Oh, you don't have to worry, you have a 401k!" Horse manure...I spent 3/4 of my "retirement funds" living until I landed another job!!

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