Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta layoff message was pretty good

I skewered the email Elon Musk sent as he laid off half of Twitter. Now Mark Zuckerberg has dumped 11,000 Meta employees, 13% of the workforce. Zuck did it right, including clarity about options for laid off employees and taking responsibility for making an error.

To be clear, Meta’s management made a serious error in being overoptimistic about its prospects, a common cause of tech layoffs. That’s on Zuck. But once you decide to shed staff, it matters how you do it. Let’s take a look.

Analyzing Zuck’s layoff email

Here are excerpts from Mark Zuckerberg’s email with analysis from me.

Today I’m sharing some of the most difficult changes we’ve made in Meta’s history. I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13% and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1.

I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted.

Rather than bury the lede, Zuck put the layoff in the second sentence. And he took responsibility and apologized in the second paragraph. Well done.

How did we get here?

At the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected. Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused our revenue to be much lower than I’d expected. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that.

The next part uses a simple but rarely used technique: section heads. It’s far easier to skip to the parts of this (admittedly long) email if you can move from section to section.

Zuckerberg clearly explains the mistake that the company made and takes full personal responsibility for it with phrases like “I did too,” “lower than I’d expected” and “I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that.”

It make a difference that Zuckerberg refers to himself as a decision-maker using the pronoun “I.” In Elon Musk’s email, like most layoff emails, the management says “we.” (And Musk didn’t even sign his email.) For taking responsibility, “I” is better.

In this new environment, we need to become more capital efficient. We’ve shifted more of our resources onto a smaller number of high priority growth areas — like our AI discovery engine, our ads and business platforms, and our long-term vision for the metaverse. We’ve cut costs across our business, including scaling back budgets, reducing perks, and shrinking our real estate footprint. We’re restructuring teams to increase our efficiency. But these measures alone won’t bring our expenses in line with our revenue growth, so I’ve also made the hard decision to let people go.

As he shifts to describe the steps Meta is taking, Zuckerberg shifts back to “we.” And he clearly explains why those steps alone aren’t sufficient to fix the company’s problems.

In what follows, I’ve deleted some text for brevity, as indicated by ellipses (. . . ).

How will this work?

There is no good way to do a layoff, but we hope to get all the relevant information to you as quickly as possible and then do whatever we can to support you through this.

Everyone will get an email soon letting you know what this layoff means for you. After that, every affected employee will have the opportunity to speak with someone to get their questions answered and join information sessions.

Some of the details in the US include:

  • Severance. We will pay 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service, with no cap.
  • . . .
  • Immigration support. I know this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa. There’s a notice period before termination and some visa grace periods, which means everyone will have time to make plans and work through their immigration status. We have dedicated immigration specialists to help guide you based on what you and your family need. 

. . .

We made the decision to remove access to most Meta systems for people leaving today given the amount of access to sensitive information. But we’re keeping email addresses active throughout the day so everyone can say farewell.

While we’re making reductions in every organization across both Family of Apps and Reality Labs, some teams will be affected more than others. Recruiting will be disproportionately affected since we’re planning to hire fewer people next year. We’re also restructuring our business teams more substantially. This is not a reflection of the great work these groups have done, but what we need going forward. The leaders of each group will schedule time to discuss what this means for your team over the next couple of days.

In this section, the email shifts to “you.”

Everyone who gets laid off has one question first: what will happen to me. The answers are in this section. It’s easy to spot, again, because of the heading. The severance policies seem pretty humane. For people on employment visas, layoffs are an existential question, which is why they get their own bullet of explanation.

The last paragraph slips briefly into passive voice (“some teams will be affected more than others,” “Recruiting will be disproportionately affected”) but overall, the active voice in this email communicates who has done or has to do what, which is far easier for people to understand.

The teammates who will be leaving us are talented and passionate, and have made an important impact on our company and community. Each of you have helped make Meta a success, and I’m grateful for it. I’m sure you’ll go on to do great work at other places.

This is the pro-forma appreciation paragraph. It’s rarely sincere, but at least this makes an effort to seem personal.

What other changes are we making?

I view layoffs as a last resort, so we decided to rein in other sources of cost before letting teammates go. Overall, this will add up to a meaningful cultural shift in how we operate. For example, as we shrink our real estate footprint, we’re transitioning to desk sharing for people who already spend most of their time outside the office. We’ll roll out more cost-cutting changes like this in the coming months. 

We’re also extending our hiring freeze through Q1 with a small number of exceptions. I’m going to watch our business performance, operational efficiency, and other macroeconomic factors to determine whether and how much we should resume hiring at that point. . . .

Fundamentally, we’re making all these changes for two reasons: our revenue outlook is lower than we expected at the beginning of this year, and we want to make sure we’re operating efficiently across both Family of Apps and Reality Labs. 

Now Zuckerberg shifts to the other goal of an email like this: to explain to those who remain what will be different. Again, note the use of “we” for corporate initiatives and “I” for personal decisions. There’s a clear signal here that staff won’t be able to spend money as recklessly as before.

How do we move forward?

This is a sad moment, and there’s no way around that. To those who are leaving, I want to thank you again for everything you’ve put into this place. We would not be where we are today without your hard work, and I’m grateful for your contributions.

To those who are staying, I know this is a difficult time for you too. Not only are we saying goodbye to people we’ve worked closely with, but many of you also feel uncertainty about the future. I want you to know that we’re making these decisions to make sure our future is strong.

I believe we are deeply underestimated as a company today. Billions of people use our services to connect, and our communities keep growing. Our core business is among the most profitable ever built with huge potential ahead. And we’re leading in developing the technology to define the future of social connection and the next computing platform. We do historically important work. I’m confident that if we work efficiently, we’ll come out of this downturn stronger and more resilient than ever.

We’ll share more on how we’ll operate as a streamlined organization to achieve our priorities in the weeks ahead. For now, I’ll say one more time how thankful I am to those of you who are leaving for everything you’ve done to advance our mission.


Okay, this is just cheerleading. But at least Zuckerberg signs his emails and acts like a leader here.

There are still problems at Meta

There are two huge issues that remain, and they have little to do with revenue and much to do with the potential future of the company.

First, is there any way to run a huge social network without it being a force for evil?

And second, is the Metaverse actually useful for anything, and will it ever actually generate a profit?

Unless Zuckerberg solves those problems, there are more layoffs in Meta’s future.

Even so, given current conditions, I expect Meta to last longer than Twitter.

If I asked you last month which chief executive is less of an actual human being, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, it would have been a hard call. Zuck still has a lot of insensitivity to answer for. But, perhaps with the help of a pretty good corporate communications team, he’s now doing a pretty good simulation of a mature leader with a bit of humanity to share.

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