Corona Chronicles: The Shittiest Lay-Off in Corporate History

Pim
Written by
- 3 min read

Sit down. Take a deep breath. This stuff can make you cringe. It’s more on company responses to the corona crisis - this time, an extremely shitty example. Get ready for shocking behavior at work.

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Inspired (or frustrated) by various corona crisis responses, I’ve been blogging on how companies handle these times. Earlier posts in this series discussed remote work and how crisis reveals character. This time? Lay-offs.

Bird

In 2018, Quartz reported electric scooter company Bird as the fastest startup ever to reach a $1 billion valuation. In October, they raised $270 million in funding, and another $75 million in January this year.

With a billion-dollar valuation, the company is considered a so-called unicorn. But while unicorns can look sweet and magical on the outside, the inside - Bird shows - can be rotten as hell.

Lay-offs

Due to the corona virus impact, Bird's leadership team and board of directors felt the need to let go 30% of its staff to 'extend its runway'. 406 employees received a vague invitation to a Zoom conference call on "COVID-19 Update".

When the call started at 10:30 a.m., employees were greeted with a 5-minute silence and a slide saying “COVID-19”. Some thought they were experiencing technical difficulties and left the call. They were unable to get back in.

They missed what goes down as one of the coldest, most unsympathetic company announcements ever. Here’s the recording of the now-infamous conference call, posted by dot.LA:

A suboptimal way

“This is a suboptimal way to deliver such a message. […] COVID-19 has also had a massive impact on our business. One that has forced our leadership team and our board of directors to make many extremely difficult and painful decisions. One of those decisions is to eliminate a number of roles at the company. Unfortunately, your role is impacted by this decision and Friday April 3rd will be your last day with Bird.”

“Thank you for helping build Bird and for making it so very, very, very special. When we come out of the other side […] we hope we can work together again.”

It seems to be a ‘very, very, very special’ company indeed. One that – hopefully – nobody will return to.

What was scheduled for 30 minutes lasted just 120 seconds. Even worse? The message was not spoken by CEO Travis Vanderzanden himself. What utter cowardice.

Disagreement remains about who was the person making the announcement. At first, we wrote it was Vanderzanden's assistant, but another employee (who wasn't fired) denied this. For sure, not many people would have wanted to be in the shoes of the unidentified woman.

Employees who had the day off couldn't get their computers to log in after the announcement, and had no clue as to why. Many found out through the media. In a follow-up memo, the company seemed more worried about getting their laptops back as soon as possible: "IT will send a box with a return shipping label to retrieve company assets (e.g., laptops, chargers, and badges). All items should be put in the box and mailed back to us by April 15."

Trying to care

Afterwards, Vanderzanden analyzed their handling of the situation as “not ideal”. The initial memo read "As you know, we strive to be community-focused at Bird - we always try to care deeply about the people we serve."

Really? If 'trying to care deeply about people' looks like this, you shouldn't be in the position you're in. Get yourself a new job, mate.

Or, take a good hard look at the proper way of dealing with a situation like this. Learn from Gravity Payments and its CEO Dan Price and other pioneering companies on our Bucket List.

For more corona virus chronicles (and all other Corporate Rebels content) subscribe to our newsletter:

Pim
Written by Pim
1 month ago

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Replies (17)

Ian Wright

Ian Wright

And for every shit one! Here’s the best example I’ve seen yet of service leadership and being authentic. A masterclass in corporate comms https://youtu.be/SprFgoU6aO0

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CC

CC

Where was HR? Even if the CEO felt this was the right way to handle this, I know there's an HR team at Bird. They should have advised him and the management team on how to handle this better. It couldn't have been "optimal" but it could have been better than this.

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Pim

Pim

Good question with most likely the painful answer they just let it happen (or participated).

Where was HR? Even if the CEO felt this was the right way to handle this, I know there's an HR team at Bird. They should have advised him and the management team on how to handle this better. It couldn't have been "optimal" but it could have been better than this.

CC

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Victoria Welsh

Victoria Welsh

This is shocking behaviour considering these unprecedented times. It does seem that growing companies that have a huge amount of funding are not looking after those that have helped them to grow during this time. These will be the companies that lose later down the line as they will be remembered; not for the amazing products they have created, for the way they treated their staff during the pandemic.

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Merv Humphreys

Merv Humphreys

In response to Victoria Welsh’s comments - I think it was the late Toni Morrison, US Nobel prize winning writer, who said that we may forget what exactly people say to us but we never forget how they make us feel.
Clearly, losing your job is a very painful experience at the best of times. It’s a challenge for managers to avoid this if at all possible and, if not, to manage it as carefully and sensitively as possible.

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Lu

Lu

How about a company that pre-covid 19 laid off half of its employees, only to have one of its top managers announcing on LinkedIn a day later 'come work for us - we have an exciting number of new opportunities'...!!??!? That sensitivity and empathy gene was lacking?

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Jessie Ferguson

Jessie Ferguson

Reaching out as a team member of the Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute team, a professional services and consulting organization under Barry-Wehmiller. Wanted to share the recorded interview link for those interested.

https://www.ccoleadership.com/resource/recorded-webinar-interview-and-qa-with-bob-chapman-barry-wehmillers-ceo/

There are so many alternatives to layoffs. And thanks for sharing the downside of this - this crisis is going to illuminate those who navigate this consciously and it will show up those who are not willing to look at these options. Pim, I know Barry-Wehmiller and Bob Chapman have been on your bucket list. He helped the company navigate the 2008/09 crisis and is doing so again without layoffs. You may want to tune into an interview with him on Wednesday 15th April at 10am CDT here: https://www.ccoleadership.com/bob-chapman-interview-the-ceo-that-avoided-layoffs-in-08-09-and-is-doing-it-again-for-his-global-organization/

Mike

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