Recently, Tesla and Disney went through rounds of layoffs. In both cases, the companies sent letters to employees that were made public. While those letters seem innocuous, they actually tell us a lot about how corporations think through the layoff process.
Text analytics firm Amenity Analytics took a look at both letters to discover the level of deception each company displayed, scoring each letter based on the language used. “One of the most exciting features of Amenity Viewer is a natural language processing capability that we call the Deception Model,” writes Justin Some. “For earnings sentiment analysis, we define Deception as events in earnings call transcripts that highlight language corporate executives use to divert, pivot, or avoid providing commentary on a topic. Deception analysis is unique to text analytics since it’s virtually impossible for a person to uncover these valuable extractions without an NLP platform.”
Amenity made the scored letters available to Dice Insights; it found Disney was twice as deceptive as Tesla in their respective layoffs. A caveat: Tesla had already discussed the layoffs internally (which came after a tumultuous 2018), whereas Disney’s layoffs came during its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. In each instance, layoffs were expected: Tesla was in transition after the Model 3 rollout, and most large corporate acquisitions come with layoffs.
For your reading pleasure, here’s the full (scored) text of the Amenity Disney email.
And here’s the full (scored) text of the Amenity Tesla email.
The letters break down into three main categories: benign language (“In Q3 last year, we were able to make a 4% profit,” from Tesla’s letter), positive language (“2018 was also the most successful year in Tesla’s history”), and negative language (“what lies ahead is the challenging work,” from Disney). The ‘deception score’ accounts for how much positive versus negative language was used.
In Disney’s case, it only had a positive score of 4, for the one sentence above. It had 9 negative statements in its letter. Tesla had a positive score of 17 on the back of 5 statements, and a negative score of 38 (10 statements).
One round of layoffs is often a precursor for continued firings. These types of letters can serve as a salvo across the bow for those still with a company. In Disney’s case, the letter noted there were still a lot of questions to be answered… but that the company wasn’t in a position to do so yet. That particular line came after one that read “but some areas still require further evaluation.” That should raise concern for everyone within the new company.
No two layoffs are alike. Activision laid off 800 after an all-time great 2018, financially speaking. A record-breaking year sounds a lot like job security to many, but CEO Bobby Kotick also said Activision “didn’t realize [its] full potential.” It also promised ongoing company-wide evaluations. Critics assumed the layoffs were ultimately to appease investors who wanted to see even more profits.
Even when you avoid layoffs, it’s a good idea to carefully monitor what the company says in the wake of mass firings. More often than not, their carefully curated legalese can enlighten about the company’s future plans.