How This Week’s Twitter Departures Reflect Tech’s Culture Woes

What does it mean when the only way to get time off is to quit or get fired?

How This Week’s Twitter Departures Reflect Tech’s Culture Woes
[Photo: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images; App Photo: Universal Pictures Publicity still for The Birds (1963)]

This Sunday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey offered up what seemed at first like a pretty dubious explanation for why four senior execs were leaving the company simultaneously. Shortly after the story broke, he tweeted a memo to “set the record straight” on “the inaccurate press rumors” about those exits, saying he was “sad to announce” that they each “have chosen to leave the company. . . All four will be taking some well-deserved time off,” Dorsey wrote.


Since slightly disingenuous messaging is nothing new at struggling companies, it was easy to write off Dorsey’s explanation as spin. But there’s reason to believe it wasn’t–which arguably makes things worse.

As Pando editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy reports, “These were entirely voluntary departures—several of them months in planning.” The real issue is the implication that working at Twitter, especially in its upper ranks, just isn’t a good experience.

Tech’s All-Too-Familiar Work-Life Imbalance

Dorsey basically said as much by highlighting the time off that his four erstwhile colleagues were finally poised to take. Then Katie Jacobs Stanton, Twitter’s departing head of media, explained further that the only way for her to win her personal life back from the company was to leave it.

In a post on Medium—aptly titled “It’s about . . . time”—Jacobs Stanton writes that she’s loved the opportunity she’s had to build Twitter’s global business. “While I’ve poured my heart and soul into Twitter, I decided to resign because it’s time for me to pour more of my energy into my family.”

That observation reflects the work-life complaints we’ve by now grown used to hearing from the tech world–complaints that are only recently, and only partly, being taken as problems the tech industry itself should try and solve.

To be fair, Twitter is far from the only major tech company whose work culture has shown some cracks. But this week there were signs right away that others could see them, too: Twitter’s shares had already dipped 4.6% by Monday.


The company has been in difficult straits for quite a while longer, of course, with its new user growth flat and vision for its future in the social landscape shaky; just today we learned that the platform has turned off ads for VIP users in a bid to keep them engaged. In some ways, this week’s turnover is just the latest installment in that story.

Success, Failure, And “Well-Deserved Time Off”

In other ways, it’s part of a larger one. It’s valuable to ask–as many did after last year’s New York Times takedown of Amazon’s work culture–what it says about the way Twitter values its employees when the only way to secure a reasonable personal life is to quit or get fired. While, as Lacy rightly points out, there are surely other factors behind those departures than just that one, this week’s exits do seem likely to make Twitter’s culture problems worse: “It makes recruiting that much harder now that Twitter has a track record of throwing people who’ve devoted years to building the company under the bus whenever it needs a scapegoat.”

But there’s another question worth asking, too, and it’s bigger than Twitter’s own woes: What message does the company send about what it takes to succeed in the tech world when time off is only “well deserved” by those who’ve failed? One source who spoke to Mashable claimed that the four departing Twitter execs “were not people in whom Jack has the highest faith.”

If that’s true, it complicates Dorsey’s expression of sorrow over losing them. But even if it isn’t, the implication remains (which Jacobs Stanton’s experience seems to confirm): Work-life balance isn’t compatible with the prevailing measures of success. Whether you do it of your own accord or at your boss’s behest, the only route to getting back your personal life is through the back door.


About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.