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Spotify Spins Bad News
Last week, Spotify announced it was laying off 17% of its workforce.
It broke the news via a letter from CEO Daniel Ek that was first shared internally, then on the company’s website.
The letter offers a worthy case study in the art of delivering bad news.
The format can be tricky, because you’re essentially writing for two audiences – employees mostly concerned about their own jobs and external stakeholders who care more about the impact to the product or company performance.
But the letter has become the standard for announcing these kinds of companywide staff reductions, especially in the tech world. In fact, several including Amazon, Salesforce and Meta all issued similar letters this year amid layoffs.
Composing the Right Message
At Braithwaite, our approach to delivering bad news is broken down into four stages – confirming, composing, communicating and caretaking.
At the composing phase, there are two big questions to focus on:
- How would I want to receive this news?
- What are the legal/HR policies and boundaries?
The framework helps balance delivering the news with compassion while also keeping the limits of what you can and should say in mind.
Spotify hits a lot of the right notes with its letter and makes the most of the established format. The Wall Street Journal agrees and has a good breakdown of key messaging points.
It gives context for the decision (tough economic climate and rising cost of capital) and shows ownership (“I have made the difficult decision …”). It offers a concrete timeline for affected employees (expect a calendar invite in the next two hours) and details on severance packages and more.
While the letter strikes the right tone, the timing has received some blowback. Year-end layoffs are a common reality of annual budgets, even with the challenge of such moves happening around the holidays.
But Spotify’s year-end is marked by its highly popular Wrapped campaign recapping users’ listening habits over the last year. The clashing tones of Wrapped and the layoffs is an awkward look, and one that hasn’t been lost on media outlets, customers and employees alike.