How to Casually Lay Off Dozens of Employees: A Guide

George Clooney
Getting laid off would probably be more fun if George Clooney handled the honors, as he did in 'Up In the Air.' Paramount Pictures

It's the autumn of the media layoff.

Media employment is always fickle, but the season has been particularly brutal. With major recent cuts at ESPN, The Boston Globe, Bloomberg and now National Geographic, a particularly huge population of journalists will find themselves jobless at the Thanksgiving table.

There's plenty of advice on the Internet for the newly jobless, but not so much for those actually distributing the pink slips. The layoff announcement is a particularly despicable but increasingly inevitable category of writing. We combed through dozens of memos for this look at How We Lay Off Employees in 2015. (Disclaimer: Newsweek's most recent round of layoffs occurred in late 2012, when then-editor Tina Brown sent this memo to staff, and will definitely surely never happen here again.)

Previously: How to Rage-Quit Your Prestigious Media Job

Tip 1: Brag that you're going to avoid corporate jargon.

From Twitter chief Jack Dorsey's memo: "Emails like this are usually riddled with corporate speak so I'm going to give it to you straight." Spoken like a true guy-who-has-his-first-name-as-his-Twitter-handle.

Tip 2: Fill the rest of your memo with corporate jargon.

Hey, you tried.

Tip 3: Make sure your employees check their work email.

National Geographic Society's CEO sent his staff a rather terrifying instruction: "Please watch your inbox for important information about your employment status tomorrow." Imagine laying off your staff and they don't see the email and just continue showing up for work? What then? Is this just the plot of Office Space, in reverse?

Tip 4: Use passive language.

Avoid jarring phrases like "We just laid off a bunch of people" or "lol omg we torched the place." In fact, avoid active verbs as much as possible. Staffers weren't fired—they just lost their jobs. Or, you're parting ways. Let John Micklethwait, the editor of Bloomberg News, show the way: In his lengthy September 1 memo to Bloomberg staff, Micklethwait parses a brutal round of layoffs (as many as 80 employees were sent packing) in tasteful, remorseful language, as though he were describing the ravages of a tragic but ultimately unpreventable fire. "Today's re-organization is bigger—and friends and colleagues have lost their jobs. It always hurts to let talented, dedicated people go, and no journalist likes to tell other journalists that they are losing their jobs." Ah, lost jobs. How did those jobs disappear? Who let these dedicated people go? Who knows, but we're all broken up about it.

Tip 5: Write a 1,200-word memo, for the hell of it.

Show those journos that you can write a whole lot of words, too. Pepper your opus with sentences like "The next phase requires us to become even speedier and more efficient in our operations, better at measuring our output against our costs, more focused in the scope of our coverage, more conscious of our strengths and more attuned towards playing to them."

Tip 6: Talk about the layoffs at your company with a tone of sober inevitability.

You didn't want to do this. You had no choice. Further down, in the closing passage of the Bloomberg memo: "I am sorry that we had to lose a lot of good people today." Had to lose. We had to. They're lost. Maybe we will find them.

Tip 7: Don't make them wait.

The wait between finding out that there are imminent layoffs at your place of employment and finding out whether or not you are included in this round of layoffs is brutal. Do not stretch it out needlessly, as the Philadelphia Media Network has apparently just done, leaving its employees in a lurch "for an astonishing two additional days."

Tip 8: Use the word "restructuring" as much as possible.

Restructuring restructuring restructuring restructuring. Slip it into sentences seemingly at random. Everything is always "restructuring," and no one really knows what "restructuring" means, so no one will argue with it. Just be sure to put a modifier in front of it. Why did several dozen Wall Street Journal staffers get laid off in June? "Necessary restructuring." Why did Groupon cut more than a thousand jobs (something like 10 percent of its workforce) in September? "Global restructuring." Why did National Geographic begin a round of layoffs on Tuesday? "Restructuring and transformation." Why did your wife leave you? Marital restructuring. (See also: "streamlining.")

Tip 9: Also, use the phrase "careful and serious consideration."

Like this: "After very careful and serious consideration, we are ready to communicate how our restructuring and transformation will affect each employee at National Geographic." You don't want employees to think you made this decision lightly. You want them to know that you thought long and hard about how useless their presence will be once the restructuring begins.

Tip 10: Also, the word "roadmap."

Just try it.

Tip 11: Talk about "the future."

"An exciting and prosperous future of sustained global growth." "To better support our future goals." There is nothing an employee being let go from her place of employment is more concerned with than the coming prosperity of the company at which she no longer works.

Tip 12: Help your laid-off employees find new gigs.

Really, it's just the least you can do, and credit to ESPN and Twitter for doing this (or at least promising that they will).

Tip 13: Another approach—just try being bleak as hell.

"These are sizable numbers," a Boston Globe editor acknowledged in an October memo that mostly skirts rah-rah faux-optimism, "but we're facing unfathomably difficult forces in the news industry."

Tip 14: Just let your employees fire themselves.

In business terms, this is called "offering buyouts," and The New York Times has gotten very good at it. This is a kinder, gentler cousin of the layoff. It is a little like that scene in The Godfather Part II when Tom Hagen visits Frank Pentangeli and talks him into offing himself.

Tip 15: When all else fails, just pretend everything's normal.

"Nobody has been told what is going on," an unnamed source said after a recent round of Daily News layoffs. "[Editor-in-chief] Myler's walking around like nothing is wrong." This will fool journalists, who definitely don't track down and investigate information for a living.

How to Casually Lay Off Dozens of Employees: A Guide | Culture