Elon Musk’s Twitter deal has employees asking: Should I stay or should I go?

Some employees in the past have mocked him ruthlessly on internal Slack channels, and even made subtle jabs at their would-be-boss via public tweets. One employee posted on Slack in May that Musk ‘puts the douche in fiduciary’. — AFP

When news first broke Tuesday morning that Elon Musk was again interested in acquiring Twitter Inc for US$44bil (RM204.02bil), most employees of the social network were sitting through an hourslong 2023 strategy presentation.

Presenters from internal groups like the product and revenue teams didn’t officially discuss the development, or even acknowledge that Musk was back on board.

They didn’t need to – employees were following along with the news on their Twitter feeds, closely watching the latest twist in the saga that has cast a shadow over their professional lives since April, when the billionaire Tesla Inc chief executive officer first agreed to purchase the social network for $54.20 a share.

Many current and former Twitter employees, known as tweeps, were quick to jump in and share their reactions Tuesday morning. A meme account run by one employee repeatedly joked about people simply trying to get through the day without crying.

“Somebody’s tired of getting embarrassed in court,” wrote a former worker.

The cafeteria sound system in Twitter’s New York office even chimed in. It was playing the song Should I Stay Or Should I Go by the Clash, one worker said. That question is on the minds of a lot of Twitter staffers now that it’s more likely that Musk will buy the company.

For the past three months, Musk has been trying to walk away from his agreement, disparaging Twitter and its executives and creating confusion and instability at the San Francisco-based company as the two sides fought an expensive legal battle.

While Twitter’s board understandably supports a sale at US$54.20 a share, many workers have dreaded the prospect. They have taken issue with everything from his politics (he voted in Texas for a far-right Republican for Congress this year) to his personal life (he was accused of sexual harassment in May) to his views on remote work (not a fan).

Some employees in the past have mocked him ruthlessly on internal Slack channels, and even made subtle jabs at their would-be-boss via public tweets. One employee posted on Slack in May that Musk “puts the douche in fiduciary”.

If the newest development holds and Musk does actually take over, it remains to be seen how workers will react, though there have been hints as to how things might change under his leadership. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO has publicly criticised some of Twitter’s executives, and text messages unveiled last week as part of the ongoing lawsuit show that Musk is unlikely to keep Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal in charge.

The two had a tense text exchange early on in the deal process after Agrawal told Musk his critical tweets about the company were “not helping me make Twitter better in the current context”.

Musk quickly snapped back. “What did you get done this week?” he challenged, before adding, “I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time.” He then vowed to take Twitter private.

After Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey brokered a meeting between the two the day after the deal was announced, it became apparent that Musk and Agrawal were not a fit. “At least it became clear that you can’t work together,” Dorsey messaged Musk after the meeting. “That was clarifying.”

There’s also the question of whether other senior employees will want to work for Musk. The billionaire has criticised Twitter’s policy decisions and its top policy and legal exec, Vijaya Gadde, a move that generated a lot of anger internally given that Gadde is broadly well-liked.

It’s also likely that Musk will cut costs at the company, a move that was part of his pitch to bankers early in the process when he was working to line up financing for the deal. At an all-hands meeting with Twitter employees in June, Musk acknowledged the company “needs to get healthy” and alluded to layoffs if and when he takes over.

He also criticised remote work, a perk that many Twitter employees have enjoyed since the company went fully remote shortly after the pandemic started. Musk’s promise that "exceptional” employees needn’t worry about being laid off or called back into the office did not sit well with some.

If workers choose to quit or are forced to leave Twitter, their options for other jobs at large technology companies may be limited, as several other major employers have announced hiring freezes and cost cuts of their own.

Though many Twitter employees have bemoaned a lack of communication from management during the ups and downs of the legal battle over the deal, the company did reach out to workers on Tuesday to acknowledge Musk’s new stance.

In an internal memo to Twitter staff, viewed by Bloomberg News, General Counsel Sean Edgett thanked staffers for their patience, while pledging, “I will continue to keep you posted on significant updates.” – Bloomberg

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