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SpaceX to lay off 10% of Workforce (latimes.com)
613 points by berbec 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 528 comments





It all makes sense when you look at basic facts.

Rocket reuse became a normal occurance, probably earlier than the majority of the industry anticipated. Their competitive pricing took the market by storm, changing the equation of sending anything to space. There are less new payloads to launch in 2019, because it takes much longer to contract and build a satellite than to send it to space, and the market hasn't yet adapted to this new mechanic.

Their need for manufacturing new boosters scaled down greatly because of reusability. You cannot reasign all engineers to other projects, some must go.

On top of that SpaceX is moving to new risky projects like the Starship, and they need to cut any fat that poses risk to their long term plans.

Lastly, as few pointed out, it's a great opportunity to get rid of underperforming employees and restructure the company.


The launch market is very small and it's always taken longer to build a satellite than to provision the launch vehicle.

These layoffs are a direct result of SpaceX's recent failures to raise money.


The key I think is that the launch rate has increased, but the market has a years long delay due to build times. The result is that the existing supply of launchable satellites has been consumed, so fewer launches are available to pay the bills.

Can you link to the failure to raise money? I thought they just secured 500 million.

$500M was the size of the offering; as of 3 January, they had only managed to raise $273M

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1181412/000118141219...


They should open it to the public with a reg d/s. I would love to be able to invest into SpaceX.

That would endanger the long term plan of Martian colonization, which is not the most financially responsible thing to do. Elon is keeping SpaceX private so as to have some control over who invests, to make sure they’re onboard.

Reg d or s is still private. But there are limits to number of investors.

it's a great opportunity to get rid of underperforming employees and restructure the company.

Positions are made redundant, not people. Individual performance is irrelevant, if not the company needs to be taken to the cleaners at a tribunal.


The SoCal aerospace job market is hot right now. The driver is multiple large program starts at multiple contractors who are competing for people. This should make it possible for everyone to land on their feet. (I've reached out to my former colleagues who left to join Space X)

What's odd is why SpaceX is cutting staff with the new development underway on the larger rockets and the satellite business. I'm curious about how they're going to increase development while cutting staff. The big aero firms have room for improvement on productivity. But SpaceX has been lean from the start. I wonder how they'll get more out of an already highly productive team. That'd be something to learn from.


SpaceX switched from carbon fiber construction for their next rocket to stainless steel. My guess is at least a big part of this workforce reduction relates to people involved in cf which are no longer needed. Additionally they had a lot of people working on crew dragon which as it now nears it's launch might not be needed any more( e.g. pica heatshield, electronics, software developers etc). Same goes for the now mature f9( block 5 was supposed to be the last iteration but there might have been some small improvements. Furthermore with the speed up on the Starship timeline the potential need for an elongated 2nd stage is reduced). So it makes sense for these divisions to move people to the new projects and at least some of them end up getting fired, either due to expertise or performance or whatever.

I just don't buy the Carbon Fiber vs Stainless construction. They aren't used for the same thing (low weight structural stiffness vs heat conduction, radiation & appearance).

From what I understand it was a water tank contactor that did the hopper in Boca Chica... and it will never face lanch/re-entry stresses. That won't replace anyone.


The starhopper( test article) is indeed made by a water tank contactor. The actual starship will be made by stainless steel in LA as confirmed by Musk on twitter. Also he mentioned something about stainless steel having better properties than cf.

> They aren't used for the same thing

The old BFR design had a large carbon-fiber hull, the new one has a stainless steel hull. Unless I'm missing your point, that's a major piece of the rocket that's no longer made with carbon fiber. (The giant molds that they were building for the BFR hull, for example, are now redundant.)


It's not for production, it's for testing and looking cool.

From what I understand, the plan is for the production Starship to have a stainless steel skin. I'm sure it will be a much more refined construction than the hopper, but skinned in stainless steel nonetheless.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFR_(rocket)#Second_stage_and_...


Wat. Sources please to back up this wild assertion?

The stainless steel hull is a viable design (though obviously given how many times it has changed it might not be final).

Scott Manley did a deep dive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVgEKBwE2RM


How will they inspect and test all the welds required... I am still shocked that the BFR is not carbon fiber.

How do you inspect small creaks in a cf build? If I had to guess inspecting welds is probably easier.

It's just a hopper to test new methanol engines... it will never see flight.

SpaceX has like 7000 employees, about twice as many as ULA (their domestic competitor). There are reasons why (Dragon, BFR, Starlink, in-house engines, higher flightrate, more in-house everything), but that's a lot of people.

What I hope is we'll see new startups form out of these folk. What I'd like to see is an ESOP/co-op newspace company bent on similar goals. A lot of these employees have vested stock (or likely will vest soon) that might help capitalize such an effort.


Well, Space X costs less than half than a ULA launch. I suspect that ULA spends that additional money on large sub-contracts to Boeing and Lockheed for the Delta and Atlas vehicles. This makes me think that when we add up the employees on the subcontracts the space X staffing number will be much more impressive in it's leanness.

I hope they all join my company, we've got a lot of work they would find interesting. With the retirement rate increasing it's the time to change things for the better. I want their experience at Space X on how to do things faster and better. But perhaps that's wishful thinking...


Launch price does not necessarily tell us anything because we do not know what profit margins SpaceX has.

hmm. So they could be losing money on each launch? But, why would they would they choose to sell at a loss when they could beat the competition at twice the price?

> But, why would they would they choose to sell at a loss when they could beat the competition at twice the price?

Because they promised to cut prices by an order of magnitude. Following a promise like that, you can't just offer a 10-15% price reduction.

Plus, if they offered at twice the current price, I don't believe they would be competitive. Part of the reason they offer a low price is that they have still-new, not-fully-tested technology. Clients accept the increased risk, but they expect significant savings in return.

Also, for certain flight configurations, SpaceX's pricing isn't particularly competitive even at its current level.


Ah, I wasn't thinking about their commercial business. I can imagine how that would be more price sensitive.

Ah, got it.

I don't beleive this, but it's possible that SpaceX are selling launches at below cost to drive demand so that they can get up to a scale where they're economical and in order to establish a dynamic in the industry where known low cost launches enable new projects that will cause higher demand in the future.

Which company?

Probably Northrop Grumman [0]?

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14689610


> What's odd is why SpaceX is cutting staff with the new development underway on the larger rockets and the satellite business. I'm curious about how they're going to increase development while cutting staff.

The oddness diminishes when you look at their open jobs listing [1], as it looks that they have >300 open positions.

[1] https://www.spacex.com/careers/list


At <5% of the employee count, those hires might barely cover churn.

That’s a really good point.

Yep, attrition was over twice that last year at some firms in the area. Partly demographics, lots of folks who can retire do. The rest due to competition for staff.

> I've reached out to my former colleagues who left to join Space X.

Good on ya.


> What's odd is why SpaceX is cutting staff with the new development underway on the larger rockets and the satellite business.

You're missing that they finished up falcon heavy development last spring, falcon 9 block 5 a little later, and crew dragon is finishing up now. That's a lot of development manpower freed up. To much for starship probably, and I don't know if many of the launcher skills are applicable to satellites.


Well, naturally every company has talent drain. The rockstars will not work long in one company and jump from one gig to the next. But if you have bad luck and hired some slackers, which will happen with the tightest of hiring schemes, then they will certainly stick around.

Thus over time you still have to re-hire people you really need, but get a bigger and bigger amount of people who are just there for the social benefits.

So what can you do to achieve your ambitious goals? Reduce the workforce and try to find a cutting point where you get rid of mostly parasites while keeping your ambitious work bees around.

Usually at the same time of the cut, some of the work bees also get raises and promotions, because then there's some free budget. So if you are an ambitious work bee, then "cutting staff" is actually also good news.

Finding the right cutting point is really the important point and hardest part. For instance you don't want to lay off people who really are performers but for some reason or another (e.g. they just got a baby) they don't perform right now. So at least in the companies I could look inside until now the cutting point is usually well inside the slackers group, so that the people who would recover and then start performing again have a chance to continue.

In the end, even the most tyranical ass-hole leader wants to have as many people as possible work as hard as possible to achieve his goals for him, in exchange for an amount of money that in most cases is peanuts for him. And not all leaders are even tyranical ass-holes.


You left out the part where managers are held accountable for failing to help their staff be productive. It’s easy to rant about slackers but in my experience they’re rare (and 100% protected by management) compared to people who are given conflicting or bad incentives or – by far the most common – work which appears simple only from a distance (e.g. how enterprise software developers can take 3 months to add a button because that involves 600 edits on 20 servers and a labyrinthine test plan).

> in my experience [slackers are] rare (and 100% protected by management)

Can you give an example of how you see slackers being protected by management? I wonder if we have the same definition of the word slacker.

In my experience the people protected by management are not doing much in terms of daily work, but they work a lot to always stay on top when it comes to prestige and taking credit from other people's work. So from my perspective they are working hard, just not to improve the teams results. That's why I call them parasites. They suck out the value of the team for their own gain.

What I call a slacker instead tries to do nothing but reading facebook (or HN) all day. Most of the time these are people who have given up hope to improve their careers for one reason or another. In many cases it is connected to a parasite sucking too much out of them and them not being able to recover self-motivationally.

I bet at least before readign this post your understanding of slacker and my understanding of parasite would be similar, right?


My thought was just that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum: their management should know that they’re not performing, irrespective of exactly how. I’ve seen some egregious examples (e.g. F500 online store which was down every morning from 5am to whenever the DBA rolled in, a dude who’d head to the bathroom at 9:30 with a coffee mug & the newspaper, someone who went out to lunch 10-3, regularly being VERY drunk, etc.), and in every case this was well known but there were reasons why nothing was done (members of the same frat, having an affair, being drinking buddies, too lazy to do the paperwork, being high enough in the management hierarchy that you’d have to explain not having acted before promoting then, etc.). So while I blame the person for taking a paycheck they weren’t earning, I attribute more blame to the people whose job it is to correct problems like that, especially since they’re paid more and given greater status and authority for [theoretically] improving the performance of the larger group.

In many companies slackers are the norm, they cover each other and help them promote to cover even better. It happens a lot in non-technical companies where techies do the work, but the think layer of management and other positions are mainly paper-pushers and PowerPoint champions.

It's not unsual to layoff 10% of your workforce in hardware companies but it is unusual for a "growing" company. To put in perspective Pratt and Whitney laid off about 10-15% a couple years ago when they were in between the phasing out of the old engine and ramping up the new engine. Sometimes companies are unlucky because there is a drought where the demand for the new stuff is lower than the demand of old stuff but you have to phase it out to maintain product lifecycles for sustainable growth.

It is normal to layoff about 5% per year, you trim the one in the 20 that is the weakest and it has positive, not negative effects. Going to 10% is a bit stretch, but still workable. In the last companies I worked, if up to 20% of the people left one day it would have an immediate positive impact on the performance, less complexity to deal with and more focus to work on real stuff.

5% is insane, I would never work for a company that regularly laid off that many people. Firing under performers is one thing, but to systematically clear house is toxic. How are you supposed to build a career if one of your coworkers/friends is canned every year, so everyone is wondering what year is theirs? So people overwork themselves to make sure it doesn't happen to them. You need to show your employees safety, so one bad project doesn't ruin their lives.

Personally I would be leaving any company that was laying off 5% of people immediately. That sends a signal that they are underperforming and it would destroy morale. Doing it every year is obscene.

I doubt you'd notice, since it would tend to happen throughout the year.

Anecdotally, sales times have MUCH higher attrition rates than this - if they don't they're probably retaining too many underperforming staff.


5% is normal attrition in a company, depending on the specifics it can be even higher. The difference is between people that leave on their own (good or bad) and shaving the lowest 5% out. In this world most companies don't have very high standards, even mid-performers can be quite bad. If you are in any way competent, you'd never have any such problems.

I think it's less about building a career and more about accomplishing the goals of the CEO and the company.

Having a workforce that is unhappy and worried about their career and life is not a recipe to achieve goals sustainably, maybe.

I doubt the ceo will accomplish any goals without employees. if you want them to align with the company’s goals you have to help them achieve their goals, otherwise you might as well outsource the work.

Wasn't that a big reason for Microsoft under-performing in the Ballmer era ?

> if up to 20% of the people left one day it would have an immediate positive impact on the performance, less complexity to deal with and more focus to work on real stuff.

Maybe in a fairy tale. In the real world, the 20% that were laid off are unlikely to be the 20% that should have been laid off.


Probably would depend on who was in the 20% who left. Having the people in the management structure select the correct people to fire is probably not that common. Especially in big, old companies where management has evolved over a long time to select for people who don't get fired instead of people who work well together and do a good job.

To expand on this point, when you hear layoffs you probably immediately think about the engineers given the demographic of this site and how you wouldn't working for a company like this. However, layoffs have a tendency to hit sales and production harder than the technical team. Production and sales usually outnumber engineers to begin with and has a higher turnover rate due to the nature of the work.

That's, of course, totally dependant on your line of business.

This seems to be confusing attrition with layoffs.

10% is a big fraction. How often do large, stable companies execute a layoff like that? Sometimes layoffs can be not so bad, for example when that's the company's way of clearing off the managers' firing wishlist without incurring legal trouble. However at 10% of the workforce, this may be a change of direction away from R&D and towards sitting on the falcon 9 and launching to LEO.

Maybe, maybe not. Consider it in terms of your own workplace: if you worked on a team of 10, and one person got laid off, would that seem so huge? I think the question is whether this round of layoffs is in response to an acute cash flow issue or just part of long-term financial prudency. They fact that they waited until after Christmas and are providing 8 weeks of pay and benefits makes me hopeful that it's the latter.

Also, given that Falcon 9 is now essentially "done", I expect there probably is a fair bit of internal capacity that's accumulated during its development which can be cut. For example, SpaceX is famous for building a lot of components in house, but perhaps they'll move more to using subcontractors for Falcon 9 parts. That might free up money to spend on R&D. The challenge will be to become leaner and save money in the core launch business without compromising standards. It'll only take a couple of accidents to trash their reputation.


Waiting until after Christmas is indeed nice, but the 8 weeks is actually mandated by law.

California WARN act applies to any site that has at least 70 employees and lays of at least 50. When this is triggered, the employer needs to provide at least 60 days notice.


WARN only applies to notice, not to severance pay. As far as I know, even in a mass layoff situation in CA like this, they are not required to provide any compensation. You could look at it as "hey we're going to fire you in 60 days per WARN, so just stop working now and we'll pay you for that time" but it's not quite the same - they could just notify them, make them work the 8 weeks and not provide any actual severance pay.

Likely they would rather send people home and pay them than risk theft or sabotage.

While there have been cases of that the average person is going to fullfil their obligation and collect the check. Any manager that really is concerned about theft and sabotage in that scenario should not be a manager. Employees steal and sometimes sabotage while gainfully employed too.

Everyday the company is already risking that.


> While there have been cases of that the average person is going to fullfil their obligation and collect the check.

It only takes one. Risk to the company is much bigger when you’re building rockets than your typical software shop, too.


My point was that risk already is there. That person that got passed over for a promotion for instance. It only takes one that is still employed at a company.

It is about a notice, but once you lay off a person it is a liability to give them access to internal systems. So majority of companies turn it around and make it look like that's also part of severance. It makes them look better and they follow the law. There is no requirement to pay severance anyway.

8 weeks of pay as severance is insultingly horrible, even for very junior employees. If a company hopes to grow and be taken seriously as a professional workplace, you have to do much, much better than 8 weeks pay & benefits for severance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Always negotiate severance up front as part of any job offer, and consider 4-6 months as an absolute minimum for junior or mid-level employees, and at least 12 months of pay for senior employees. Simply turn down job offers when a company won’t offer this and take a longer time to find an offer at one of the (many) companies that will.

Most companies will negotiate severance with you but you have to ask and make it clear that in-writing severance details to serve as protection against unexpected unemployment from layoffs is a dealbreaker for you.

Most candidates won’t negotiate this, which is why most companies don’t have to offer it except to the few special case people that require it.

If we all, as candidates, unilaterally make it impossible to hire us without adequate severance, we’ll all be better off.. instead of just the minority of candidates who put forward the effort to negotiate it and aren’t afraid to turn down offers that don’t include defined severance agreements.


> I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Always negotiate severance up front as part of any job offer, and consider 4-6 months as an absolute minimum for junior or mid-level employees, and at least 12 months of pay for senior employees. Simply turn down job offers when a company won’t offer this and take a longer time to find an offer at one of the (many) companies that will.

Have you put this into practice? It'd be a nice contingency to have in place but seems like it'd put a damper on the tone of the negotiations ("I'm already thinking about being let go and want to make it really expensive for you to do so").


Yes, I have absolutely put this into practice. I have encountered companies that have blanket policies about either low or no severance, and I simply reject any offer or request to continue negotiations without severance. This has certainly made job searches take longer and certainly left me feeling frustrated after investing time in take-home tests, on-site interviews and negotiations, only to learn that severance agreements weren’t possible in some cases.

But I gained a lot of experience regarding how to negotiate it and talk about it, and ultimately found that most companies are perfectly happy to negotiate it as part of the job offer.


I think most every job I've had as a developer would think it ridiculous for me to ask for severance. Severance is meant for high end positions where there's a large cost to the employee to switch jobs because of how illiquid management and executive roles can be. Developer jobs are extremely easy to switch between.

It’s wrong thinking like this that allows companies to continue omitting severance from many basic developer job offers. Meanwhile, if you don’t assume “it’s ridiculous” and actually ask for it, you find many companies are perfectly willing to negotiate it, even for junior level software engineering positions.

It is more like you work at a company with 10 people. One person is fired but that person happens to be hr. The remaining 9 somehow get payroll done but someone is always short.

10% is huge by any measure.

Good ol' Roman army strategy of "Decimation", in 1 in 10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army)

"SpaceX decimates its WorForce" would have been just as correct but then Swat Teams might have moved in :).

On topic, probably just cutting out the fat (I'm sure most companies can fire 10% and a month later very few would notice the difference). But then, why not move them to R&D? I doubt SpaceX has cash problems to fire (more or less) essential workers.


As long as the company is planning on doing 10% less than most will not notice.

10% usually means 10% to 40% of company productivity is affected shortterm. 10% leave, 5% wanted to get fired but didn't, 25% will think they are next and change how they work (some positive some negative).

It is usually a signal for top performers to start moving on. In this case the story is spacex is growing conflicts with the layoffs.


I work for GM (for now). 15% layoffs were announced before Christmas... No one knows when the ax will drop. Rumor is Monday or Tuesday.

Moral is low and the office has been pretty damn quiet. Meanwhile we just raises earnings forecast today...


The forecast increase is probably a direct result of the layoff and they needed it to "meet the quarter".

I have the quarterly cycle. I find it extremely bad for both the society and companies when nobody takes the long term view.


No... It was part of the 2018 announcement. 2018 was better than expected so they revised 2019 forecast.

"Early Friday, GM said 2018 EPS will exceed previous guidance of $5.80-$6.20. It also expects to surpass an earlier view of adjusted automotive free cash flow of $4 billion."


Which is kinda just how capitalism "works".

In certain circumstances, once the means of production are created [most of] the workers are no longer needed, but the means being privately held (by a narrow group of owners) means they alone can benefit going forward.

You can make a feast together and share it; or you can make a feast together, kick out most of the helpers and gorge yourself.

Capitalism says the second option is better because you get to have more.


>>but the means being privately held (by a narrow group of owners) means they alone can benefit going forward.

No, capital expanding has social benefits in reducing consumer prices, which increases purchasing power.


Strictly speaking, Capitalism says that the Capitalists get to choose which option they go with.

In a system with healthy incentives, we might expect Option 1 to be the sensible capitalist equilibrium, because capital needs to be maintained and the builders/maintainers become the same people.

Don't forget that, in theory, the workers can become capitalists themselves if they aren't getting a good share of the benefits. In my view usually when they don't it is because of government interference (eg, the pre-Uber situation in taxis, or how regulation tends to entrench existing players).


You don't "become" capitalist, a capitalist has capital, and if you don't have any capital, you're not a capitalist.

I disagree.

As an example, someone who switches from working as a landscaper to running a landscaping business has switched from a worker role to a capitalist role — even though they likely spent less money doing so than a software engineer worker owns. Being a “capitalist” is defined by capitalizing ventures, not the mere volume of capital.

I would argue that the reason society has become so disequitable is that we’ve made it difficult to transition between worker and small capitalist — that is to say, that we’ve undermined small and lifestyle businesses.


Anyone saving/investing a portion of their income is becoming a capitalist.

I am not sure why you're getting downvoted. Imagine if Apple/iPhone lost 10% of its growth, people would start panicking. Context is extremely important. 10% of a dollar is not a lot of money, but 10% of a billion USD would be many times what I'd need for the rest of my life.

By that logic no company with less than 11 people should ever fire anyone...

Firing one person in a 10 person company could mean that you lose your entire accounting/finance skillset in one fell swoop. Or your sole developer. It is a big deal in terms of intellectual property and skill pool within your organisation.

Down stream impact of how to cope with that loss is another factor. Fire your book keeper and does your remaining engineering team have to spend 10% of their time doing invoices and reconciling bank accounts?


It could also mean firing that one developer who vastly underperforms, but you still have 5 other skilled developers because developing happens to be what your company does.

Pretty much, yeah. In an 11 person company, each individual is basically a whole department. That one person might be your only marketer, or your only frontend developer, or your only accountant. That's a really big deal.

To be fair, a firing in an 11-man company can be a pretty big deal.

Really? Look around you next time you're in the office, could you really not lose at least 1 of those 9 slackers around you?

I mean, if nothing else, 'decimate' has the meaning it has for a reason.

Its gravitas comes from indiscriminate killing, not from the number.

And if you can't find a slacker, that means you must be the slacker, I suppose!

You must be fun to work with. I’ve worked in 10 person companies, and it’s the sort of place where there’s nowhere to hide. By extension you generally won’t find slackers in a small company.

> towards sitting on the falcon 9 and launching to LEO.

That would still leave them with many thousands of redundant employees. Falcon 9 is done and the production is dropping due to reusability. Recently, they had a 3rd re-flight of the same core, which, coupled with the slowdown of the global launch market, means that in the next years they will need to produce a third to a half of the number of cores they used in 2017. The same for Merlin engines.

They basically fulfilled their mission and drastically reduced the cost of getting into orbit - which for the space industry is dominated by labor costs. Without a greatly increased demand, they can't justify keeping those people around.

And they can't roll all the Falcon production workforce towards BFR, Raptor and Starlink since those are still strongly R&D dominated projects and the skill set is incompatible. At the same time, they have hundreds of engineering positions open for those projects.


> they can't justify keeping those people around

I would have put them on other Musk projects to keep them from going to the competition. SpaceX doesn't have a monopoly on low cost launch. The next place to figure out how to 3d print a tungsten titanium copper nickel chromium iron one piece rocket nozzle will also have that advantage.


If Musk is really more interested in getting humanity into space as soon as possible then padding his already large bankroll, having some competition can really keep people and companies focused on making quick progress. I have heard him say he would like some more companies competing with SpaceX in interviews for just this reason and his actions seem to suggest he his main goal in life really is making humanity a multi-planet civilization.

He also said that he joined Tesla to help jump start the electric car revolution by a decade and his total asset liquidation in 2008 to support Tesla and SpaceX seems to support that this attitude is not just some PR move, but who knows for sure.


Musk is incredibly stretched and has very nearly missed bankruptcy several times. It seems highly unlikely he can afford the largesse to hand over any business to his competitors. A SpaceX-2 without billions sunk in R&D could drastically undercut their launch prices and capture the lion's share of the market, without having any intention to go to Mars. This would be great for the launch market and access to LEO but would delay colonization.

It's pretty clear Musk sees his for profit endeavors - Tesla, commercial and government launches, Starlink - as cash cows for a long term investment into something no one in the market is yet ready to finance. Until that changes and Mars becomes an interesting commercial proposition, Musk will ruthlessly pursue his business and leave nothing on the table, precisely to acquire the funds to bootstrap his vision.


This is an interesting take, they weren't laid off, they graduated.

The same thing is used to train a talent pool in a vendor eco system, hire contractors to build demo apps and integrations, but cycle them out after every project. All those people can now put Tech X on their resume.

SpaceX definitely transformed the entire endeavor of space travel.


Depends on management style. Stack ranking companies, which used to include MS and GE) would fire 10% (theoretically the bottom 10%) every year. It's no longer fashionable, but there are probably some that still do this more or less.

Musk does seem to believe in occasionally "trimming the fat" when the numbers get tight. SpaceX did this exact thing in 2014, and Tesla has done it recently (and is now back over the headcount post-layoffs).


It's a big fraction but it's not necessarily unheard of. For example Autodesk laid off about 13% of its workforce at the end of 2017. Additionally, in California you've got to give plenty of advance notice and as a result the state tracks mass layoffs[1].

1: https://www.edd.ca.gov/jobs_and_training/Layoff_Services_WAR...


Thanks very much for the link. They only show how many layoffs, and not percentage of workforce. Still, good data.

Ah, this only tracks data for layoffs in California and the the ratio isn't necessarily very useful. OTOH it's a good list of companies engaging in mass layoffs that could be used to look for nationwide trends.

10% = literally /decimated/. https://www.wordnik.com/words/decimate (to reduce by 1 in 10).

Maybe reusability is already having the desired effects? When a reusable launch is cheaper than using an expendable rocket, a big chunk of the savings must be labor (the raw materials are cheap) SpaceX, I think, is doing unusually deep manufacturing (vs contracting out, where most of the the hit of reduced labor demand would happen at component suppliers), so the reduction is at their own workforce if the increased efficiency is not fully compensated by increased demand.

In my experience, the larger the company the less painful it is to fire 10%.

In large engineering organisations, laying off 10% makes no difference at all on anything apart from the ego of managers whose teams shrink.

On the topic, wasn't Jack Welsh/GE that popularised the idea of firing the bottom 10% every single year? Not saying that this is necessarily a good idea but that shows the amount of slack in large organisations.


Must be great for morale.

It encourages all of sorts of dysfunctional behavior. I know one guy who would horde orphan teams to use as cannon fodder and protect his core team.

It really is. After every such round, I think to myself "finally!". And things start getting done slightly faster afterwards.

Edit: In any big corp, there are usually many employees who act as "barriers" to others. Either because they feel secure enough in their job and don't really care about performing, or because they lost sight of why things are being done, and are focusing on bureaucracy and "processes" for the sake of those two things.


The rounds of firing reliably identify the low productivity people? I'd have expected the opposite -- that they reliably identify those least able to swing the politics necessary to win high-visibility work, who in my experience are typically high-productivity individuals.

If the decimations have been going on for some time, I'd expect them to reliably hit low-performers, but only because the obvious low performers were hired as sacrificial lambs in the first place, which puts the whole exercise deep in "cobra effect" territory.


Of course, it's not 100% accurate, but so far, it looks like there's some good observation behind the firing decisions.

The one time I lived through a 10% reduction, the results were not catastrophic, but still pretty bad. Morale took a huge hit. What's worse, is that it spooks everyone. Resumes get updated, networks get activated, and you find a lot of people leaving after the layoff for new jobs.

I would think SpaceX isn't like most large, stable companies as their primary goal is the colonization of Mars.

If you ask the PR department or look at the "About Us" section of any company, you'll find some fantastical story how they're improving humanity by earning millions doing whatever they do too.

Sure, but you get impression that spacex is actually serious about its mission, unlike most companies with those kind of pages.

Affordable orbital and interplanetary transportation would massively improve the state of humanity.

First we need a self-sufficient Antarctic colony. Any takers?

The Antarctic is actually heavily protected by treaties preventing colonisation and exploitation of resources.

This all goes up for grabs when the treaties expire in a few decades and it's presently an environmental issue to try and get them resigned rather than have an oil rush there.


Yes. Will be keeping an eye for the polar ice war over Antarctica

When we establish a Mars colony it will probably take centuries before it's truly self-sufficient. I don't see the point of starting with a self sufficient colony on Earth, especially if the challenges are quite different from Mars.

Well, those challenges are fairly trivial in comparison, so it'd probably be good training.

Take Mars, I am heading to Mercury.

What would you do when you got there? Thought it was sort of inhabitable for humans with such temperature swings.

Read up on mercury, it’s tide locked one face to the sun, other side dark and cold. There’s dusk/sunrise zone that’s probably livable.

Mercury is 3:2 locked, it still has normal days (although they are longer than its year). The poles don't get direct sunlight though so they are frigid all the time.

Thanks! My information source is a little out of date it seems:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_Starr_and_the_Big_Sun_of...


I think it's just refocusing on Starlink. Their hoped for capital raise was only half subscribed.

All of the time. Big banks cull numbers like that annually.

Perhaps Musk wants to employ only the most committed zealots and pay them in hope.

This isn't the first time SpaceX has done a 10% layoff round [1]. It seems like they do this at key inflection points where they're relatively sure they can make the next tech leap, and need to retool their workforce.

[1] https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=35254.0



Not sure if this is still the case but didn't SpaceX make a point to stick to trade secrets instead of patents[1] for fear of Chinese rocket agencies copying them anyways?

If they lay off 10% of their workforce, how do they ensure that their trade secrets are kept safe? Lay off only low-risk employees? NDAs? It was my understanding that the degree to which those can be enforced in California is limited.

[1] https://www.nasdaq.com/article/is-elon-musks-spacex-protecte...


If those employees go to China with trade secrets, they might be violating ITAR. ITAR is enforced with big fines and prison time.

Not easy to catch though.

Define easy anyone who works on such technologies is on some FBI database somewhere and likely more than just one.

SpaceX doesn’t hire non-US citizens due to how hard it is to get the security clearance needed for them if they try to go to China they will likely get caught maybe not everyone, but enough to prevent any real knowledge transfer and more importantly the first one that will get caught is going to be made an example for the rest.


They can and do hire approved permanent residents too.

It’s harder but they can work on ITAR information too.

However the point stands that those people are vetted and tracked. How effective that is once they are in China or Russia etc I don’t know.


They can but I don’t think they do that Elon was asked several why don’t they hire non citizens.

I’m sure some special cases do happen but the bulk of their workforce is US citizens.

And again you assume that they won’t get caught going to Russia or China to begin with or that they won’t be tasked with assets in country once they arrive.

We’re talking about 500-600 people here out of them it’s not clear how many would be really critical for technology transfer prevention but say it’s 25% so what we have is about 150 people or so that need to be tracked say 10% out of those will be contacted by a foreign entity that’s what 15 people?

It’s really not hard to track them at that point.

In fact I would guarantee you that this likely will be covered by their exit interview, they might even get a “scary” federal agent explaining them the do’s and don’ts and likely many of them already know them.

And again this isn’t a new thing, NASA and the defense industry have fired people before it’s jot like it’s the first time that 500 people with security clearances lose jobs.


They don't care if you're a citizen or not, they care about whether you're legally allowed to work on rockets. From an ITAR perspective, a green card holder is the same as a US citizen, and from a recruiting perspective there is no difference.

They do definitely hire many green card holders, I know because I was going to be one if their offer had been better.

zaktly, and one is enough. No doubt in my mind that China has at least a few spies in all major US companies. It's hard to catch, especially if you have a nation state teaching you how to.

But then a job is nothing compared to what China can pay them for a thumb-drive full of Tesla's secrets so even highly paid employees might do it for money. (Tesla is opening a factory in China though...so they might be ready to have some secrets stolen /priced in)


so is espionage and treason

>It was my understanding that the degree to which those can be enforced in California is limited.

California limits non-compete agreements and anti-moonlighting clauses however, as far as I know, does not limit NDAs.


Ok, but they might know classified information. Maybe when they worked or accessed it they agreed to keep it secret forever. That trumps usual NDAs.

NDAs are used to protect both confidential information and trade secrets but trade secrets are treated differently from confidential information by the courts.

In typical NDA you specify a defined period of time to avoid the risk of a court declaring that an NDA is too restrictive. This should not apply to trade secret. Trade secret lasts indefinitely even after NDA time period expires if all other conditions for trade secret are met.

There are some cases where NDA expiring invalidates trade secret but it's mostly due to specific circumstances or badly formed NDA. You should inform the employees when they are dealing with a trade secret and use all means to keep them secret.


In general, in USA and California, NDAs are extremely enforceable.

My gut says this is an aggressive Muskian decimation.

1) Maybe brought on themselves: 'hey, design/build the thing, then fire those who designed it' type thing, which definitely happens. It happens to companies in a crunch, or those who just put the outcome ahead of everything else.

2) A decimation: let's use this as an opportunity to drop anyone we feel is not cutting it - and teams that we created/hired we realize we don't want/need.

3) General organizational shakeup.

4) A true and real opex cutback ahead of anticipated future needs.

The thing is - outside of human terms - it's a big cut but it might be highly rational.

'Pruning' I think is a essential aspect of any healthy organization, forcing entities to rethink, to shake them out of their settled positions, getting rid of organizational cruft.

Of course, there are humans behind every decision which makes it quite fundamentally something else.

But if you could imagine they were 'robots', as if to remove any issues of compassion and concern for externalized outcomes, and this were simply a simple dispassionate re-org ... then you can see where the economics might be pointing.

We also don't know the terms of the layoff: maybe some of them are voluntary. Maybe the payouts are huge. Sometimes these things work out well for a lot of those involved, obviously it doesn't for others.


> imagine they were 'robots'

No. Don't.

Edit to add: I understand you were using this as a thought experiment. Sorry for knee-jerking.

If you're employing people to do something robots can't, you need to understand that the way to treat them is also different. This goes double if your mission is to improve the world instead of outright capitalism.


"If you're employing people to do something robots can't, you need to understand that the way to treat them is also different"

And if you're employing people to do what robots can do, you can treat them as robots?


Presumably, one doesn’t want to prune a spaceflight organization quite as aggressively if it jeopardizes mission safety...

Could also be that they consider themselves “done” with major design phases of the heavy, while the people mover stuff is too far away to engage mid level designers with effectively?


hey, design/build the thing, then fire those who designed it' type thing, which definitely happens

That’s OK if you hire contractors and pay them premium contractors rates. It’s sleazy and underhanded to make people believe that job security is part of the “package” then bait-and-switch.


Yep, pruning is essential. It's the HR equivalent of code refactoring.

For comparison, DoD is reducing its medical workforce for 13%, 17,000 jobs. Makes total sense to me. I only work 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, so really, less than half-time.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/01/10/more-17000-un...


That's because the DoD is probably the most cash-strapped ministry of all ministries of all nations /s

According to some comments from employees, the company had an all-hands meeting where everyone was sent home and told to check their email over the weekend to find out if they're being laid off or not: https://www.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/af1n7f/spacex_will_...

Whatever the reasons for the workforce reduction, this way of doing it is just unnecessarily cruel.

I disagree. What would be more cruel is to keep people guessing for weeks, or to do several smaller layoffs. That's how it's usually done, and it utterly decimates the morale, and causes the best people to leave.

The best way to do a layoff is to cut once, cut deep, and do it quickly. And of course to not be an asshole and offer severance compensation to folks who were laid off.


> I disagree. What would be more cruel is to keep people guessing for weeks, or to do several smaller layoffs. That's how it's usually done

No it's not and you're presenting a false dichotomy. They made the decision who to fire (to "cut once"). The question is email vs. having managers meet with their impacted direct reports which can definitely and is regularly done inside of one day.


I've been at a company where the 1-1 firings occurred over a morning. I was fortunate to keep my job, but I can tell you it was a pretty awful day for those staying (obviously not as bad as for those leaving :(). There's no good way to do this, layoffs of this sort are awful. I actually am not sure this is better or worse. You have a horrible Friday night, with untold stress, but at least you're not sweating at your desk with people being walked in to the back to be canned, afraid of the mere mention of your name or a tap on the shoulder.

There is a right way to do this. You announce it to the staff and at the same time you let those affected know. It's best to do this at the end of the day.

Telling people "you may or may not still have a job, you'll get an email within the next 72 hours" is ridiculous. So what happens if it's Monday morning and I didn't get an email? Am I still employed? What if there was a glitch? What if I show up and I'm escorted out?

This screams of mismanagement.


Can't you email those not listed for termination, at the same time, and tell them they still have their job.

> You announce it to the staff and at the same time you let those affected know.

To do this you would have to already have finalized this list of people to let go. Specifying that list beyond rough department targets to actual individuals probably requires involvement of many managers and might be what happened in those 72 hours, but I'd love to hear from someone with actual experience. Could larger organizations actually prepare that without leaking the layoff anyway?


>So what happens if it's Monday morning and I didn't get an email?

You still have a job.

>Am I still employed?

Yes.

>What if there was a glitch?

This seems rare, and it seems like people would double check to ensure this doesn't happen (and if it did, to re-send an email).

>What if I show up and I'm escorted out?

Sounds awkward at worst, but now you know.


As if the slow trod all day long to go through one-by-one doesn’t have its own consequences.

You are correct about the false dichotomy, but the correct way of doing it would have been to let everyone know who was being let go before they made the announcement. No reason to leave people wondering for any period of time.

> No reason to leave people wondering for any period of time.

Play that out a bit. Is the notification a scheduled slack message or email for those terminated? Or do you want each employee being let go to be notified in a face-to-face conversation with their manager and where the details of financial arrangements, healthcare continuity, and other aspects are prepared and with a chance for the employee to ask questions, and for HR and leadership to assess if they appear in a condition to commute home and offer other transport or acute support arrangements if needed?

I think the latter is more appropriate, but a series of those things takes time to execute [longer if managers or layers of managers are being eliminated], and the time between when the first such meeting ends and the last such meeting begins, people are left wondering.


You can still tell everyone immediately at the end of the day. Or just send the email on the weekend. You don't have to say you're going to do it first and keep everyone worried.

There is no great way to do it. If they told people in person, people would frame it as being humiliated and then forced to walk through the office with everyone knowing. If they did not warn people, they would complain about being blind sided. Layoffs are a terrible thing to go through and all things considered I don't think this was a bad way at all. No one had to do the walk of shame, everyone had a day or so to prepare themselves for it.

But that is just my preference, others would prefer something else. Everyone though would prefer not to get laid off. Unfortunate for all involved.


You can't when you're dealing with 6000+ people. Likely even the managers didn't know so as to avoid feeding the rumor mill. They'll now need to make up their minds about their reports whom they wouldn't mind losing.

Are you saying top executives selected 10% out of all 6000 employees without consulting their direct managers who to fire? That would be a random 10% sample at best. Obviously managers would be involved in deciding who is worth to keep or not.

No, I'm suggesting that managers might have been made to select them on the spot. I worked as a manager. This is usually a very easy question to answer unless your team consists entirely of rockstars, which I haven't experienced in practice. As a manager you are acutely aware of who's producing and who's dragging their feet.

No way are the managers going to all stay late on Friday and figure out who to fire on Saturday. Those discussions have already happened, and they know who is being let go.

This is Musk we're talking about here. He might have decided this over lunch a few hours before the announcement.

I agree with you. Uncertainty and fear brings a horrible toll on the employees.

I was a teenager in the 90s and my mother worked for IBM. My parents were divorced and I lived with mom. She came home every day exhausted and scared, not knowing when the axe would drop. It went on for years. No one knew the logic of which departments were next; solid performance reviews didn't protect you, seniority, skillet, being management: nothing made you safe. Everyone we knew went to work not knowing if they would make it to lunch.

It was horrible. I'm sure everyone would have much rather the SpaceX method than months or years of agonizing waiting.


I worked at a company that did layoffs. They basically sequestered everyone in there work areas, killed Internet access so people couldn't go online (pre smartphones), and walked people out one at a time. It was pretry lame.

You want to minimize the time where employees who are not being laid off are wondering “am I being laid off?”. Ideally you want that time to be 0, because it can wreck havoc on morale and those 24 or 48 hours of doubt can be enough to push people who are not getting laid off to reach out to their network, recruiters, etc. Now you’re losing high performers.

If indeed everyone was told “check your email over the weekend to find out if you’re laid off or not”, that’s terrible. Tell people who are being laid off that they are being laid off, tell people who are not being laid off why there are layoffs and that they’re not a part of it, but don’t keep everyone in the dark - even if it’s “just” for a day or two.


Totally agree, if I was laid off I'd like to know right away so I could start job hunting right away.

And if it turns our I wasn't I'd like to know that, too, so I don't lose focus of whatever it is I'm doing.


Agreed. There is no way to do layoffs that doesn't suck and doesn't harm morale. This avoids some of the worst of it and also keeps it somewhat private.

What's less cruel? Face to face meetings? Layoffs suck, how is this particularly egregious?

Seriously, if you cannot see that "fire by email" is far more impersonal and disconnecting than compassionately meeting with the employee 1 on 1 and giving them a definitive exit path along with the financial support to do so, then please do not ever work in HR or be responsible for employing people in the future.

To subject ALL your employees to the 50/50 prospect that they will have a job come next working day is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with them using a gun with a 2 bullet chamber - one loaded. The psychological toll even on the 'survivors' will be brutal.


What do you think goes through people's head as their managers walk to them "can we talk" during a staff reduction exercise?

Have you ever sit across an HR person saying all the right things and putting an as empathic as possible face on, and telling you "it's not you, it's us"?

Personally I'd prefer the email, as long as, I have a contact to talk to for the next steps.


"Fire by email" isn't a bad option for layoffs in the double digit percentage as long as the delay between notification and sending the emails is low. Meeting 1 on 1 only works in non targeted low scale layoffs, anywhere else and it just creates hysteria.

Also fire by email doesn't mean there isn't a definitive exit path or no financial support. The article itself states the email claimed a minimum of 8 weeks of pay for those laid off.

Also it's 90/10 not 50/50. If you were firing 50% of your workforce there is no avoiding a "brutal" psychological toll for the remaining.


Elon Musk is sticking to the Roman definition of decimation

The roman definition involved beating 1 in 10 to death by the "coworkers", so no, I don't think 8 weeks of severance and helping them write resumes plus get new jobs elsewhere is a very good definition of decimation.

In percentage yes, but not in the manner of choosing the affected. Or at least one would hope it’s not every tenth person regardless of role, contribution, etc.

I didn't want to like this, but all respect to you for the etymological accuracy and black humour here.

> Also it's 90/10 not 50/50.

If 90/10 from the company perspective. From the employee perspective, it sounds like everyone at SpaceX went home on Friday wondering "Do I have a job come Monday?". To each and every one of them, the prospect of having a job versus NOT having a job would have been 50/50 as they had no insight into the decision making process for the layoffs.

Sure, for an employee who may have known they had made a lot of mistakes or were obviously underperforming etc., their knowledge that the chances of them being fired could have been skewed higher, but I am willing to bet that there will be many people thinking "My work is mission critical and I am a hard worker, I think I will be safe..." who will still unexpectedly get the pink slip on Monday.


Psychologically, if you don't know if you're affected yet the odds feel like 50/50.

As someone who has been laid off, I would have much preferred an email over the awkward 1 on 1 meeting I got with my boss instead. I've been looking at other jobs already and just wanted to move on with my life. Instead I got stuck in a long conversation which was basically him just showering me with pity that I didn't want but had to graciously accept.

I can see why an email is the better option, seems much cleaner and less awkward. I have seen people go to meetings and while they are in the layoff meeting all there access is cut off - so its purely done to lure the poor employee away to avoid any odd mails afterwards. Pretty lame and distrusting honestly.

Space X seems to still trust everyone fully, most companies dont.


That's overly dramatic. I'd prefer an impersonal email over an uncomfortable and humiliating meeting with an HR employee where emotions are running high. What's to be gained by being laid off in person - other than discomfort on both sides and humiliation by laid-off employee?

Just send me an email with all the options and terms and contact information for HR. If I need clarification, let me be the one that seeks HR out.

Also, HR exists to protect the company, not to be your friend. There aren't there to offer compassion. That's not how business or HR works.

But maybe it's because I'm from the younger generation who grew up with email, text, IM, etc. I can see older generations being used to and preferring face-to-face interaction.


If they're at all afraid of retribution via your computer, notification via email would be impossible - you can only get the email if you still have computer access.

The 1x1 scenario still involves calling the laid off employees into meetings in sequence while everyone else stresses out wondering if they are next. Layoffs are brutal no matter what you do.

Not only that, but as someone who has been through this in the past...

What happens is you find out your department or wing of the building is next. You continue to try to do your job, meanwhile your manager starts walking towards you and stops at a couple cubicles down from you. You breath a slight sigh of relief. Meanwhile you and everyone else is prairie-dogging as others in the office start getting called out, and the VP strolls by and yells at everyone to "have some respect and quit gawking, get back to work". So now you keep your head down, and eventually get a tap on your shoulder from your manager.

You can't help but fight back tears, as you get lead to the conference room where an HR drone explains the package, benefits, and next steps. You are handed a box, escorted back to your desk, and put your personal belongings into the box while being watched like a hawk to make sure you don't do anything stupid. Some things you aren't allowed to put in the box until they are thoroughly examined. A forever half finished document is on your monitor. An email you were about to reply to is still visible, and will go unanswered. Your laptop is shut down, your accounts already locked.

Now you start on the walk of shame carrying the lonely box out to your car, start driving, and then your family wonders why you are home from work so early. But the look on your face tells the whole story, with the look of concern on your wife's face and the look of horror from the kids (of course, being kids, they start asking questions about how this will affect them). "Hey, kids, looks like we will be taking that camping trip a bit early, got some saved up for it, will figure out tomorrow when it gets here. It will be alright."


My only experience with layoffs is when one morning we suddenly had a departmental meeting, and it turned out none of us was being laid off, but our manager of over a decade was, and he was already gone, no chance to say goodbye.

Great description - horrendous thing to go through.

This is true. Nothing like deer in the headlights when the person is singled out for the meeting. It’s a terrible thing.

It all depends on the person, personally I would prefer the spacex method as I don't have to put on a brave face for someone who is firing me. I also don't have to walk through the office knowing everyone is feeling sorry for me. The warning also gives me a day or so to brace myself in private at my home for the email so I am not caught completely off guard.

Also they fired 10% so there was a 9/10 chance they would be keeping there jobs.

No matter the method its done, everyone emerges from a layoff knowing that they are just a line item on a spreadsheet. Its unfortunate but true.


"SpaceX is offering a minimum of eight weeks’ pay and other benefits to laid-off workers, according to Shotwell’s email. The company will also provide assistance with career coaching, resume help and job searches." - They are supporting them through it. I think this is as bad as any other way of lay off. Those 1:1s are farcical anyway. Only thing that could be better is to just send the mail only to the laid off employees.

Again, having gone through this a decade ago, that assistance gets outsourced to a company that specializes in it. Effectively it feels like you are attending a community college class on "how to find a job". It's not like they are going to call up a bunch of employers and try to match you to another position somewhere, you are still going to have to do a lot of legg work (home work) yourself. In my case it was somewhat beneficial, although the advice they had for me on my resume got totally shredded by the recruiters I worked with. At least it got me out of the house for 2 hours a day for the next 5 days.

The big lesson I try to pass on to everyone. Don't ever assume you will have a job next week. Be polite to any headhunters, assuming they are the professional kind, keep your resume up to date, network like crazy, have a few side project plans, don't be afraid of small jobs on the side, and most importantly keep a 3 - 6 month emergency fund. That fund doesn't have to be what you make in 6 months, but at least what your bare bones expenses are (mortgage, utility bills, minimum credit card payments), and try to keep your have-to recurring monthly expenses lower (mortgage / car payments, etc). That doesn't mean you can't spend on extra stuff, just make sure you can cancel them at any time.


The 6 month emergency fund is good for another reason, as f-you fund: in case working conditions get bad, you know you can just walk away. Somehow the knowing is enough, you never have to mention it, the confidence somehow shines through if you have a difficult chat with your manager.

Lol it's not that big a deal if you lose a job when you have around 12months living expenses saved up. So that goes twords living expenses, then you get unemployment at 60% of income. People need to move on, and stop being so emotionally invested in their work.

You are most likely an at-will employee. You or the employer can terminate the relationship immediately giving any reason or no reason. Just have money saved up and don't be afraid to quit without notice to something better if you need to.


Personally I would prefer to be fired by email versus an 1 on 1 face to face meeting. The financial support and other helpful tools seem like an orthogonal issue.

No offense but I completely disagree. I would prefer an email over a 1v1 conversation. The employee is not getting fired, they are getting laid off. There are no conversations that need to be had beyond severance discussions.

I've been laid off face to face, it sucks. How is SpaceX supposed to lay off 600 people in 1 on 1 meetings and what significant difference does that even make?

We don't know the content of the all hands, they could have outlined the support plan there.


Why? People are hired by email all of the time. Full time positions are more transactional now than ever before. There is no real loyalty either way.

You skipped right over the hiring facts of: the face to face interviews, consideration, and most importantly, the option for the (potential) employee to exercise their choice of whether to take the job or not.

None of which is available to the employee in a 'fire by email' scenario.


you are assuming you know the content of the email. As others have said, severance and support programs could be outlined in the email.

I prefer email over HR walking past all the cubicles praying they won't stop at mine.


Because firing is a much different experience for employees than being hired? That should be obvious.

Having gone through many layoffs, there is no way to do it where it doesn’t suck for everyone involved (those that stay or go).

However, doing it in a way that show management understands the gravity of the situation goes really far in reducing how unpleasant the experience is.


I've been laid off twice, once in a one-on-one meeting with a manager, and once via an email. The email was much preferable. (Both were in short-term positions, so not really a fair comparison)

The logistics of laying off 6000 people makes it very difficult to hold one on ones. Assuming 30 minutes per person, 8 hours in a day to hold meetings and 5 day work week, that's 75 person-weeks (!) just to hold one on ones.

On top of that, there are security concerns with hanging onto employees and letting them have access to company property during a time that they know they will be fired. Especially for a company that performs services for top secret government projects.

The easiest (though you won't catch me arguing that it's the best) way is to hold a staff meeting, and then let corp IT churn through the 6000 person list over the weekend and remove access.


They're laying off 10% of 6,000 employees. Not everyone.

Firing via SQL query or an email filter. Is this what we have come to?

SELECT * FROM employees ORDER BY last_performance_review_score LIMIT 600;


This is acctually probably how they do it.

Typically higher scores are better. If SpaceX used this query they would fire their 600 best employees. Or they use bad column names.

On top of the lame SQL reference this diminishes the true severity of firing 600 real people. We have no reason to think the firing was this nonchalant. This diminishes the work and humanity of everyone involved.

It appears to be a weak reference to stack ranking.

Do you have any reason to believe this is probdbly how they identified people to be let go?


Default ordering would be ascending order, smallest to largest. You would need to specify DESC to order the higher numbers first.

Yep, too late and too many beers to be commenting on HN.

I did find it amusing, as the first thing I did seeing the SQL was also run it through my head.

> To subject ALL your employees to the 50/50 prospect that they will have a job come next working day is tantamount to playing Russian Roulet

How is it 50/50? It is 10%.


As I mentioned above - it is 10% from the company perspective.

However, it sounded like every employee at SpaceX went home on Friday thinking "Do I still have a job come Monday??". Because no other information seemed to have been imparted as to the selection criteria for the redundancies, every single employee wouldn't have known if they would keep their jobs or not.

Unless they knew they were blatant underperformers or had lots of black marks against them on file, their chances of keeping their jobs was the same as the chance they could be on the 'hit list' for redundancy. 50/50. I am willing to bet that even employees who thought their job was as safe as houses and that they were considered good employees would find them self on the 'let go' list.


A business has no responsibility to financially support an ex-employee. If it does so, it's a gift, not something that should be expected.

And employees have no responsibility to stay at a company that treats ex-employees like shit. Actions like these are a great way to demoralize your workforce and entice higher-level employees to jump ship.

In many jurisdictions, such a responsibility does exist as mandated by law.

Not in this country.

I imagine it's possible that dehumanizing layoffs like this will put SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage, its lunch eventually getting eaten by companies who do care enough about their employees to interact with them in person regarding the business of the company and their place in it, good or bad. This would come out in increased efficiencies due to no surprise-axed-or-not email always threatening to land in their inboxes.

What is dehumanizing? Either way is awful, but companies have to make tough decisions and communicating those is not easy. Many people prefer an email over awkward semi-genuine HR discussions. Coworkers and manager will reach out afterwards in private and in person if they really cared about the connection.

It's dehumanizing in the strictest sense of the word: communicated by text on a screen rather than in-person.

That’s a superficial focus on human interaction that ignores he reality of business dealings.

You're at the "contradiction" level of PG's pyramid of disagreement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Graham_(programmer)#Graha...

1. Prepare the e-mails in advance for each employee that

2. Schedule the "Town Hall" meeting for an important announcement at 4pm on Friday

3. Start the meeting by talking about the company, vision, challenges, recent wins, etc. [Insert a positive announcement here]

4. Tell everyone at 4:20pm that the company will be laying off 10% of the workforce, explain why, etc.

5. At 4:25pm, as you prepare to wrap up the town hall meeting, tell everyone that they will receive an e-mail either letting them know they will be laid off or that they will remain with the company. Thank everyone for their hard work for the company.

6. [Insert another brief, unrelated positive announcement about the company].

7. At 4:31pm, as people walk out the door, have IT send all of the e-mails at the exact same time to everyone who's being laid off. Review the list of employees compulsively beforehand to ensure no mistakes are being made.

8. Together with step 7 send another e-mail to everyone who remains with the company ensuring them they are not being laid off.


Turn this into a SaaS.

Last time I experienced something like this there was a company wide meeting for an hour and a half where everything was explained. When we went back to our desks, there were pink slips waiting for anyone who got let go. No waiting or wondering, no dragged out second guessing.

My preferred method if this were to happen to me would be: 1. Receive notification not in person 2. Have the option of discussing with my manager in person after I had a chance to process it.

Big news like that takes a while to process. I believe I've read before that if you are firing someone, you are supposed to tell them and then not say anything else until they do. That seems unnecessarily cruel to the person getting the bad news since it puts them very emotionally on the spot.

But I've never been on either side of that, so who knows.


Yes face to face with the person who made the decision (presumably your direct or skip manager) not the random hr person is “less cruel” (really it’s about integrity).

Firing by email is just not a professional way to do things. Imagine if someone resigned by email.

I worked with someone who did. He came in at 6 AM, sent off an email, and left at 6:15.

I don’t blame him, as our employer has walked out 25 year employees with no notice.


My employer has done the same. They have done more than one round of layoffs, and it's always the same - you get called into a 1-on-1 meeting, and you never return to your desk.

Business runs on email. I would prefer to be laid off via email.

How else would you resign then writing an email? Are you writing a piece of paper? Written seems much more professional then just verbal, leaves no doubts. Sure, you can tell before in person but email seems the best way.

Layoff by email is like breakup via text message.

The end result is the same and either way it sucks but certainly doing it in face to face seems to generally be considered more personal and perhaps less cowardly.


Romantic, business and employment relationships aren't the same thing. At all. Do you collect resumes from your dates?

Anecdote from friends' parents, this is done in China for some romantic relationships.

Its kinda the same thing, what you put on your online profile at dating site work like a resume.

If you've got to do it by email, how about "go back to your desks and check your work email" instead of "go home and stew about it for a while"? Extending the delay is sadistic.

And your usage of sadistic is hyperbolic.

We don’t know the details, employees may have known before walking out the door.


> And your usage of sadistic is hyperbolic.

Obviously. It's still a shitty thing to do.

> We don’t know the details, employees may have known before walking out the door.

Huh? We have multiple SpaceX employees on Reddit saying they were told to go home and wait for emails. Some took hours, some are still waiting.


Source: reddit is not compelling, ever.

>What's less cruel?

ANYTHING is better than telling the entire company "go home and compulsively refresh your email all weekend to see if you get to come to work Monday"


Do we know that is necessary? Why would it take all weekend for 700 emails to be delivered? Why not send an email to all the remaining employees to reassure them they are not being fired? That may have happened, we don't know.

From the reddit comment there's no indication they said when they will be sending the email.

It would have been far more practical to quietly go into each department "Jane, Jack come with us we're putting together a team" "Sally, Quan come with us we're putting together a team" take them all to an area "we're very sorry but we have to lay you off, we have counselors that we can refer to you if you need to talk to someone. We've also got some headhunters we can recommend. It's not personal, we just have to cut costs, you'll find that your company accounts were deactivated at the start of this meeting. We will be more than happy to ask your supervisors to write you letters of recommendation if you'd like, just put on this form where you'd like them sent for your records. Please think of anything that you are in the middle of and type it out in this word doc on the laptops over there".

Not "Hey everybody, go home and wait to see if you get to come in Monday".


That sounds terrible.

Start the process with a lie finish it with asking them to do some work?!

You've just been sucker punched with new team yay! wait not really you’re fired! Now please finish that document you were writing and GTFO.

What? Please think more carefully than this if you are ever in the position of influencing layoffs or delivering the news.


Notifying your employer, that's giving you 2 months of severance, what you're in the middle of doing as to prevent everyone else on your team from having the nightmare of trying to figure out what you were doing as well as providing you with access to counseling and a job placement service is terrible?

From what I've read about Musk, doing it this way is part of his management style. People's feelings come second to getting things done efficiently. Well, efficiently as he sees it.

There is nothing efficient about ruining people's weekend while they are being fired. This could have been done by sending out the emails at the end of Friday without making people nervous and worried over weekend.

+1 good way to have the remaining 90% to think long and hard about working some place else.

> this way of doing it is just unnecessarily cruel

The right way to lay off varies culture to culture.

I worked on a trading desk. 1:1 personal lay-offs followed by security cleaning out your desk seemed unnecessarily cruel. An e-mail out of hours—and an offer to schedule a phone call—seemed far more gentle. In other cultures, the human touch matters. Given SpaceX’s results-oriented culture, their approach seems appropriate. The goal was to prevent those not getting laid off from seeking new jobs while keeping those being laid off from panicking those staying. Letting everyone go home, finish their after-work schenanigans, and then—before recruiters have a chance to nip—deliver the news is a good balance for the relevant parameters.


what is the less cruel way to lay off 10% of your workforce

Tell the affected ones immediately. Don't tell the other 90% that they're potentially getting fired tomorrow. Treat people with respect and be transparent when you hold power over them.

Well, rather than a "Don't come Monday" email on a weekend, which effectively gives them 0 working days notice, giving those employees say, 2 weeks notice that they will be terminated at least gives them a chance to re-train for another position or get their resumes together to try and find another job while still getting an income to pay for rent, food etc.

FAR less 'cruel' to give them an opportunity to plan their exit and give them the psychological space to get used to the fact.

EDIT: In light of the 'read the article' responses and downvotes, I wanted to clarify that my comment here is directly addressing the question "what is a less cruel way of laying people off" against the purported scenario above of people being told on Friday to go home and check their emails to see if they still have a job on Monday.


From the article: "SpaceX is offering a minimum of eight weeks’ pay and other benefits to laid-off workers, according to Shotwell’s email. The company will also provide assistance with career coaching, resume help and job searches."

So SpaceX is giving employees two months to focus their full efforts on finding their next job. This seems less cruel than telling them they will lose their jobs and then expecting them to keep working.


That need not just be charity on SpaceX's part. The circumstances of the layoff sounds like it would trigger the WARN act: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_Adjustment_and_Retraini.... If so, 60 days notice is a legal requirement, not beneficence on SpaceX's part.

The notice is a requirement.

Not requiring them to do any work whatsoever for that time is beneficence.


That is FAR less cruel, and more in line with how most companies handle a genuine redundancy.

My response above was to do with the fact that employees who were NOT terminated were also subjected to the psychological trauma of spending the weekend guessing whether they had a job come Monday. Not the best way to keep morale high.


This rarely happens because of liability and security. It’s pretty common to be walked out by security after packing up your stuff when you are laid off.

Heh, a hedge fund I worked at didn't even let you back to your desk. You were immediately escorted out by security. "Your personal effects at your desk will be mailed to you." Suppose there were exceptions to say grab keys, wallet or a purse, but you weren't packing up everything.

AKA the first 10 minutes of the movie Margin Call.

They already get 8 weeks severance. Keeping them around for 2 weeks to mope doesn’t help anything.

Except keeping people around for two weeks longer allows people to say goodbye to their coworkers and people they might've worked with for years. It allows them to impart their knowledge to anyone else that might need it, document things that need documenting and more importantly: It means the company treats you like an actual human being.

Acting like people are just gonna sit around and mope is not only highly disingenuous but is also a good way to fuck over the people having to fill in the knowledge gaps.


They launch giant multi million dollar missiles into space. Allowing an employee that knows they are terminated and is most likely distracted to continue working on a project like that is not worth the risk. If someone was genuinely upset and wanted revenge, a good portion of them are literally rocket scientists, they could probably figure out a way to do it if given a couple weeks.

Better just to cut ties as quickly as possible. They were given 8 weeks of severance and if they are really friends with the people, they can call them on the way home. They are not banned from communicating with their past co-workers.

I know it sounds harsh but there is no nice way to find out you were fired. This way mitigates the companies risk, provides decent (not great) severance for the employees and time to find a new job while being paid.

The only winners in a layoff are the shareholders.


I used to work for a government contractor and during lay-offs they rarely did the whole plug-pulling nonsense on their employees when they needed to restructure or lay people off.

So I suppose you can consider me highly skeptical when a commercial company makes the excuse that they're doing it for security reasons. Because to me, that sounds like pure bullshit designed to cover for shitty practices.


It's easy for me to take a pragmatic approach from the outside looking in but if I was the one getting laid off, I would probably share your sentiment.

I don't know why companies do the "escort you out by security" thing, but I doubt there is a great deal of logic to it, as I have observed that even at a given company, some people are treated like that and some aren't, and there's no sense to it. It's never happened to me, but a former boss of mine was laid off that way, and nobody admitted to knowing why. Yes, he could have destroyed a lot if he'd wanted to, but so could a less senior employee.

It's also a good way to get a disgruntled worker who still has system privileges or physical access to cause all kinds of havoc. Not worth the risk, even if you think it's more humane.

Not worth the risk? Disgruntled workers only generally arise if you treat your employees like shit and do shit like say, telling employees 'hey you might not have a job on monday but we're not telling you! we're gonna give you a weekend to think about your possible jobloss'.

I honestly hope you never work in HR because your sort of attitude is genuinely disastrous to this industry. Acting like treating your employees with respect is a 'risk' is terrible.


I agree the mail thing is not great... but you’re saying that of the 600 employees who were laid off, not a single one of them will become disgruntled if they had a good work environment? I too despise HR practices in some instances, but I’d consider them extremely incompetent if they believed in collective goodwill of 600 people who just lost their jobs. Keeping their access to sensitive systems (in a rocket company, no less!) would be opening the company up to sabotage, and HR would be fully (and rightfully) blamed for it.

Also, if I were laid off, why would I want to continue working for them for two more weeks? I don’t care about the company’s success at that point. I’m already getting two months severance; it’s much better to focus entirely on finding a job as quickly as possible. Half a month’s paycheck is not worth the emotional pain of seeing your non-laid-off colleagues continue to live their normal life, but act all awkward around you.

In fact, I’ll go ahead and say: I think your attitude that requests laid-off employees to keep working is disastrous. Nothing about making them come to work is respectful or beneficial to them.


Do it progressively rather than telling everyone "go home and start guessing whether you'll come back." Hack and slash will always have casualties, and you'll lose good people. If you go down the chain asking people confidentially whether there's anyone they feel the team would be better off without, then you can work on removing the weakest links without making the entire company feel like they can't trust you.

To tell people face to face, to have the courage instead of hiding behind the impersonal email. Basic etiquette.

I've been laid off face to face. It's not enjoyable. The logistics of safely laying off 10% of a workforce really prohibits this anyway.

It's not enjoyable, but it's still the right thing to do.

As for the logistics, each member of staff can be talked to by their immediate manager, making it scale easily. Matter of fact, this once happened to me, and my boss was as clearly upset to let me go as I was to leave. But everyone being let go was informed and given their notice as soon as the workday started, so there was no uncertainty or delay.


What if the managers are fired too? Should they be kept on just long enough to fire their reports? Is that somehow more humane?

Employment is a business deal. If you consider your relationship with your manager to be personal then you have an unhealthy view of your job.


I think we can all agree it is chicken shit to not tell people in person.

Looks like Lumberghs of hn disagree.

Oh of course, anyone that disagrees with you must be an idiot taking the perspective of a bad boss, even when they're talking about their experience being fired.

There’s no good way to do this. At least this way they find out in the comfort of their own homes.

How would you do it?


Standard technique to avoid confrontations.

How would you execute a 10% layoff at a company sensitive to employee sabotage? I agree I would prefer a face to face personally, but I don't see another way here.

To drag it out another way would leave the company and its operations highly exposed to those individuals leaving in my opinion.


I actually like what Musk has done, technology wise, but if this management style doesn't point to him possibly being on the spectrum, I'm not sure what will.

That would be a horrible e-mail to get caught in a spam filter.

Hmm... someone mean could certainly have some fun sending fake emails to other employees.

That's brutal. Back around 2008 my OpCo laid off employees for the first time in it's hundredish year history at the time when our current owner laid off people from every OpCo.

It was almost as savage, they went around the office of 70-80 people and grabbed some people at what seemed like random, took them in one door of the conference room and asked them what personal belongings they needed immediately, got those items and had corporate security see them off the property with their severance information. At least that wasn't "go home and worry all weekend" though.

Great way to sabotage company-wide morale SpaceX.

glitchc 10 days ago [flagged]

Wonderful, all hail Elon, the next Howard Hughes.

Seriously, can modern CEOs actually grow a pair and actually face their employees rather than hide behind tech?


Presumably the all hands meeting was the face to face part?

Are you serious?

Yes.
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