When companies conduct large-scale layoffs, laid-off employees are not the only ones who suffer the consequences of downsizing. Research shows that even employees who witness co-worker layoffs experience devastating effects, such as heightened job insecurity, depression, and physical health issues. As a result, it is imperative that HR professionals prioritize the emotional and psychological well-being of remaining employees and implement strategies to help mitigate the harmful impact of downsizing.
In recent months, Twitter employees faced massive cuts to headcount and multiple changes in leadership. Within a 12-month period, two CEO successions occurred at Twitter, with Parag Agrawal replacing Jack Dorsey as CEO in November 2021 and Elon Musk taking over as CEO after seizing control of the company in October 2022. Reported accounts of Twitter employees “audibly sobbing in the bathrooms” as word spread of Musk’s plan to cut 75% of the company, and managers “vomit[ing] into trash can[s]” after being instructed to lay off hundreds of employees, exemplify the negative mental and physical repercussions of mass layoffs.
Tracking Twitter employees’ psychological state over time
To assess the impact of these layoffs and leadership changes on Twitter’s workforce, we analyzed the text contained in Glassdoor reviews written by 752 Twitter employees over the last two years (February 2021-2023). In order to better understand the psychology of the Twitter workforce during this period, we aggregated reviews into months to help interpret changes in employee language that coincide with the events highlighted in the timeline below. Specifically, to gauge employees' mental states, we focused our analyses on their emotional responses and time orientation, using Receptiviti’s Emotions and Temporal Orientation frameworks.
While our analysis consists of employee reviews posted on Glassdoor from February 2021 to February 2023, the following timeline* provides the details of major events that transpired during the tumultuous time between Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO in November 2021 and Musk’s assumption of the CEO role in October 2022 (including subsequent mass layoffs over the following months).
*This timeline was summarized from Matt G. Southern’s article Elon Musk’s Twitter
Consistent with the reported upheavals at Twitter, our analysis shows that between February 2021 and February 2023 employees expressed significantly less positive emotion over time as well as significantly more negative emotion over time. This isn't surprising, but what follows is a more nuanced analysis of specific emotions (admiration, fear, etc.) and the time orientation of these emotions that offers a great deal more insight into the psychological well-being of Twitter's workforce. Note that this type of analysis can be conducted on any organization using Glassdoor or similar data.
Admiration, gratitude, and love in 2021 are replaced by fear and anxiety in 2022
In terms of positive emotion, admiration, gratitude, and love significantly decreased, with dramatic dips in May-June 2022 and October-November 2022. That is, during 2021, employees were more likely to admire the “impactful work” conducted at Twitter, proclaim their gratitude for the company’s “good benefits, fair compensation [and] good team support and direction from leaders,” and express their overall love for the company: “Absolutely love it […] love the people, the mission.” While these positive emotions were more prevalent during Jack Dorsey’s and Parag Agrawal’s tenures as CEO, negative emotions became more prominent during Musk’s acquisition.
For example, fear (indicative of anxiety and worry) significantly increased over the past two years, with a substantial spike during the time Musk retracted his offer to purchase Twitter in July 2022. This was a period fraught with uncertainty, a psychological state that often triggers anxiety. Employees even commented on this tumultuous period, reporting “A lot of uncertainty [regarding] Elon purchase,” in their Twitter Glassdoor reviews.
More notably, a sharp increase in fear occurred during October and November 2022, coinciding with the completion of Musk’s “Twitter Takeover” and his subsequent mass terminations. Employees’ Glassdoor reviews stated how "[Twitter] 2.0 is just about fear and intimidation"and “nothing remains other than fear and mismanagement,” reflecting the anxiety-provoking nature of Twitter's working environment during that time.
Temporal indicators show employees struggling with the present and longing for the past
In addition to tracking emotion, examining the time orientation language (by accounting for verb tense: past, present, future) can inform the psychological state of the Twitter workforce. For instance, research shows that focusing one’s attention on the present moment relates to positive experiences (e.g., greater life satisfaction and well-being), whereas focusing one's attention on the past relates to negative experiences (e.g., greater depression, lower life satisfaction and well-being).
Our analysis demonstrates that Twitter employees’ past-focused language (e.g., was, used) significantly increased over time, while present-focused language (e.g., is, are) significantly decreased over time, particularly during Musk’s acquisition in the fall of 2022.
In other words, Twitter employees made more references to the present during the emotionally stable periods of Dorsey’s and Agrawal’s reigns (e.g., “Twitter is the best company ever”) and made more references to the past during times of extreme tumult (“[Twitter] was great until Elon took over”). Employees’ spike in past-focused language following Musk’s assumption of the CEO role perhaps evokes a sense of longing for the glory days of Twitter’s past.
Examining temporal language and emotion language to generate further insights on the employee experience
From a psychological perspective, internalizing the discrepancy between one’s previous pleasant state and one’s current unpleasant state may bring about a dysphoric mood (e.g., sadness, depression). Based on this line of research, we examined the interaction between sadness and past-focused attention over time. Results of our analysis illustrated that employees who used language indicative of greater sadness also used more past-focused language over time.
Employees’ references to sadness and the past were more frequently expressed once Musk became CEO, specifically communicating that “[Twitter] used to be amazing. It WAS a great company to work for. Sad how it all ended. It was a dream job until the Musk purchase.” These findings suggest how examining emotion language and temporal language concurrently can help shed light on the psychological state of a workforce.
“Twitter Takeover” takeaways
Our analysis demonstrates the benefits of using Glassdoor reviews to make inferences about the psychological well-being of employees during company-wide shifts, such as mass layoffs. The current examination of Glassdoor reviews suggests that Twitter employees exhibited a seemingly nostalgic yearning to return to Twitter 1.0 under Jack Dorsey’s and Parag Agrawal’s leadership. In contrast, Twitter employees experienced greater negative emotion (i.e., challenges to their well-being) throughout Musk’s reign.
It's easy to analyze the psychology of a workforce using Glassdoor, engagement survey data, and other similar data sources. Contact us to learn more.
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