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5 HR Experts Discuss the Optics of Microsoft's Layoffs

HR leaders weigh in on Microsoft's mass layoffs preceded by an executive party. Explore their perspectives on its impact on employee morale, trust, and corporate image.

Nick Schurk

by Nick Schurk - February 6th, 2023


5 HR Experts Discuss the Optics of Microsoft's Layoffs

In January 2023, Microsoft announced plans to lay off as many as 10,000 workers. But the night before the announcement, company leadership wasn’t in the grim mood you might expect. Fifty company executives attended a private Sting concert hours before the mass layoffs went into effect.

The optics of this from an HR perspective aren’t great. Microsoft has come under fire for the message that this event sent to current and former employees. We asked HR and business leaders how they feel about this news. Here are five responses that got our attention.

Indifference Toward the Welfare of Employees

“While this might have seemed like a fun way to blow off some steam before a big layoff, it's important to remember that any celebratory gathering is also a very public message to employees about management's mindset. 

“If management is seen partying it up, it sends the message that the company is doing well and there won't be any layoffs. Even if the message is unintentional, it's important to remember that optics matter, and partying when thousands of people are losing their jobs is a terrible idea. It conveys indifference toward the welfare of employees.”

Matthew Ramirez, CEO at Rephrasely

Makes a Mess for HR to Clean Up

“I can't believe that, in this day and age of 360-degree social media platforms and post-COVID layoffs going on in most industries, this small group of company executives at Microsoft didn't think through the impact of their attendance at a Sting concert while they were laying off 10,000 employees. 

“The most difficult role for HR is to fend off the complaints and concerns from the 10,000 who are being let go. Obviously, it didn't occur to these company executives. Or it did and they didn't care that the feelings of their departing employees even mattered. 

“Even employees who are being let go like to leave with a positive feeling for the company. Executives attending a Sting concert does not send this message. Now, HR has to clean up the emotional mess and convey to the remaining employees that the company does ‘care about its employees.’”

Lee Meadows, Consultant at Meadows Consulting

An “Ethical Lapse” From Microsoft’s Leadership

“The optics of the private Sting concert indicate an ethical lapse from Microsoft concerning its treatment of employees. Showing care and consideration for those who have been laid off should be a top priority, and the timing of this event was poor‌. 

“It’s important to consider how employee morale is affected by decisions like these. Employees are human beings with families and futures that depend on their employer's reputation as a caring entity. If executives appear indifferent during large layoffs—or worse yet, celebratory— long-term loyalty and trust between management and staff suffer due to negative public perception; not only among current workers but potential hires as well.”

Travis Lindemoen, Managing Director at nexus IT group

A Disconnected, Unsympathetic Executive Team

“The optics of a small group of executives attending a private concert just hours before a layoff is concerning. It sends a message to employees that the company's leadership is out of touch and unsympathetic. 

“It also reflects poorly on the company's values and commitment to its employees, creating mistrust and resentment among the workforce. To maintain trust and a positive work culture, companies need to show respect and empathy for their employees in times of hardship.”

Tawanda Johnson, HR and DEI Consultant at Sporting Smiles

It Stinks, but Hardly Surprising

“Holding a private concert when you’re just about to lay off 10,000 employees is absolutely terrible and stinks to the high heavens. However, I don't think this should surprise us at all. 

“In corporate America, there always seems to be a big disconnect between executives and regular employees. The massive pay gaps, differences in benefits, and a huge imbalance in growth opportunities are some examples of how senior employees benefit so much from corporate success at the expense of their hardworking, low-level employees. 

“It seems the massive wave of tech layoffs isn’t going anywhere soon. Other tech giants have significantly cut jobs, and we expect this to continue throughout 2023. But you can bet that executive bonuses will survive even as many folks lose their jobs.”

Logan Nguyen, Co-Founder at MIDSS

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