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“Investment Layoff” Is a Masterpiece of Corporate Euphemism

“Investment Layoff” Is a Masterpiece of Corporate Euphemism
We're investing, just not in you. Photograph by AndreyPopov/via iStock.

The meaningful-viral-news publication Upworthy laid off 14 employees Friday in an effort to put more resources into online video. Sadly, layoffs around the end or beginning of a calendar year aren’t that uncommon.

The way company co-founder Eli Pariser described the move, however, is truly noteworthy.

This is an investment layoff,” he told Politico’s Kelsey Sutton, describing the shift as a “hard decision” and saying, “As excited as I am about what the future of video holds for us, it means moving money dollar-for-dollar from other departments.”

Perhaps, particularly if you still have a job at Upworthy, you may share Pariser’s excitement. But if you had to get your stuff and go today, you may find little joy in his description of your departure as an “investment.”

A search of the news database Nexis uncovered no previous use of the term “investment layoff.” But layoff memos are, as a rule, towering repositories of euphemism and self-pity. Microsoft once announced 12,500 layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a memo that opened with “Hello there” and went on to say, “These decisions are difficult for the team.”

In 2013 the Cleveland Plain Dealer outdid Microsoft, notifying employees of a two-hour window in which they’d receive a phone call” notifying them that they are either being separated from employment on that date, or that they are not being separated from employment.”

And when the Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger announced 167 layoffs in 2014, its publisher, Richard Vezza, told the New York Times he viewed the cuts “as a transition to an organization for the future.”

When separated from the language used to describe them, the imperatives of layoffs are usually understandable, especially in a business as challenging as local journalism in New Jersey or getting people to share “things that matter” digitally. But is it absolutely necessary to remind people who are losing their livelihoods how tough it’s been on you to can them? Last year, the journalism-leadership teacher (and my friend and former coworker) Jill Geisler talked about how managers should “share truly lousy news.” Good ones, she said, “do it early and honestly. They don’t insult people with asinine management tropes like ‘cuts will make us stronger and smarter.’”

There are few things more painful than losing a job. Describing that loss as “difficult” for yourself is poor form. Calling it an “investment” is remarkable.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.