- Spotify is laying off about 6% of its employees, CEO Daniel Ek announced in a memo.
- Ek said changes at the company could allow him to do his best and focus on Spotify’s future.
- Leadership experts said that comment could come across as deaf and unsympathetic.
“Hi, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood CEO with a net worth of about $2 billion who will benefit from some changes that could result in you losing your job.”
That might as well have been Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s message in a memo announcing layoffs at the company.
In the memo, published on Spotify’s website on Monday, Ek detailed what would happen after the company announced plans to lay off about 6% of its workforce. Based on the global workforce the company reported with its third-quarter results, that would be approximately 588 employees.
Ek wrote about upcoming changes in the C-Suite, then said: “Personally, these changes will allow me to get back to the part where I do my best work – to spend more time working on the future of Spotify – and I cannot wait to tell you more about all the things that we have yet to do.”
His excitement seemed at odds with the announcement that came a few paragraphs later: “We have made the difficult but necessary decision to downsize our workforce.”
Spotify joins a wave of high-profile tech companies that have been conducting mass layoffs in recent months. The memos from the CEOs of these organizations announcing the layoffs ranged from sensitive and self-flagellation to sparse and bordering on callous.
Ek’s note is otherwise unremarkable. For example, he mentions Spotify’s support for departing employees and expresses confidence in the company’s future. But leadership experts say Ek’s note about the career opportunities the C-suite reorganization offers him is inappropriate in this context.
“People want empathy and sympathy and a focus on what happened to them,” said Adam Galinsky, professor of leadership and ethics and vice dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Columbia Business School.
Of Ek’s comment about doing his best work, Galinsky said, “It just gets totally lost here.”
Ek’s comment on his own career opportunities might come across as deaf
In the memo, Ek wrote that the layoffs and reorganization of Spotify’s C-suite would help the company become more efficient, make more effective decisions, and save money. He took responsibility for the situation and reassured the remaining employees that the company was stable — two elements of a layoff announcement that experts say are critical.
“In hindsight, I was too ambitious to invest ahead of our sales growth,” Ek wrote. “I take full responsibility for the steps that brought us here today.”
He added: “I am convinced that these difficult decisions will put us in a better position going forward.”
But letting employees know how his job will get better when he can focus on the company’s future is a bit numb, experts said.
“It’s not appropriate in this type of note to talk about it or in any way focus on yourself as ‘what’s in it for me,'” said Coco Brown, CEO and founder of the Athena Alliance, a development network of leaders for women, wrote in an email to Insider.
“This is a powerful example of toxic positivity,” Brooks Scott, executive coach and CEO of Merging Path Coaching, wrote in an email to Insider.
“The focus on ‘personal, me, me and mine’ distracts from what employees are going through,” added Scott. “What people are looking for is recognition of the hard work they’ve put in in the past and some empathy for the present.”
Galinsky said the “subtext” of Ek’s comment on his own career opportunities was, “I want to go back to being the visionary that I can be.” Ek could instead have commented on how the restructuring would give the company as a whole “the resources that it takes to help those who stay with Spotify, create a better organization that will grow, and maybe hire more people in the future,” Galinsky added.
The standard CEO memo announcing layoffs can seem formulaic, Galinsky said. They make the announcement, regret, and tell customers, investors, and remaining employees that the company is in good shape. It is possible (although Galinsky cannot say with certainty) that Ek wished to deviate, if only slightly, from these conventions.
Still, “the formula exists for a reason,” Galinsky said, adding, “the formula is to express regret and regret that you have to take this action, but the actions ultimately support a brighter future for this company.”