The Memo from Quartz at Work: It’s all right to cry

To modern workers everywhere,

When we launched this newsletter just a few weeks ago, we promised to bring you, among other things, dispatches from the modern world of work and advice on creating more compassionate work cultures. So I would be remiss, and perhaps a touch hypocritical, not to share something that happened right here at Quartz last week.

Like so many other companies reckoning with the consequences of the pandemic, we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to lay off talented employees. It was painful for everyone, most especially those who lost their jobs. Some of the layoffs I did personally, my first foray into what is without doubt the worst realm of management.

There’s nothing particularly modern about layoffs; they have been a feature (or a bug) of the corporate world for decades. But there were two things about our experience that felt very 2020. Most obviously is that, out of necessity, these layoffs were conducted via video calls with each of the affected employees. My screen has never felt smaller; this was nothing like being in a room with someone. There were no handshakes or hugs to offer, and odds were even lower than usual that the shell-shocked person on the other end of the conversation would catch any meaningful glances or facial gestures conveying sympathy.

The other contemporary feature of these calls is that there were tears, mine and theirs—not every time, not even most times, but enough to be more than a one-off thing—and on both sides they were completely unapologetic.

There’s a lot of advice out there saying managers need to avoid showing that kind of emotion in these situations; don’t put the burden on the employee to comfort the person taking away their job. This seemed like a sound suggestion when I read it. In practice, it was hard to pull off. But there’s shame in this only if you consider tears a burden. In fact, they’re a perfectly natural response to a great many situations, even at work.

Crying didn’t feel awkward to me in the moment and I don’t feel awkward about it now. In fact, it was probably the least awkward thing about calling someone and, with two screens between us, looking them in the eye and telling them their job is gone. Layoffs are awful. But if there is a humane way to approach them, certainly it shouldn’t require that we deny our humanity.—Heather Landy

Five things we learned this week

Remote-team managers can learn a lot from open-source communities.

A Hong Kong company is hiring an Animal Crossing expert to create a branded island.

Sustainable finance is performing well in the pandemic.

Covid-19 will be a disaster for US wages even after the crisis has passed.

We’re about to re-enter an office full of half-baked design prototypes.

30-second case study

TikTok, the Chinese app once described by a bipartisan pair of US senators as a “potential counterintelligence threat,” this week named Disney streaming executive Kevin Mayer as its CEO. He was lured away less than three months after getting passed over for the top job at Disney upon Bob Iger’s retirement.

Josh Hawley, a Republican senator who once tried to get TikTok to testify whether its ties to China posed a risk to Americans’ data security, was quick to comment on Mayer’s appointment, as Quartz’s Jane Li reports. TikTok had skipped that November hearing, citing short notice and that its executives were located in China, Hawley tweeted. “But this new executive lives in the USA. I look forward to hearing from him. Under oath.”

The takeaway: Mayer brings lots to TikTok’s table. He was responsible for some of Disney’s most important new businesses, including Disney+ and Hulu, has deep international experience, and was successful enough to be seen as a credible successor to the incomparable Iger. But as TikTok parent ByteDance tries to distance the app from its Chinese roots, it could be argued that even in the supposedly post-national world of business, one of Mayer’s biggest assets to his new employer is simply that he’s American.

It’s a fact

In a US survey of CFOs and other finance leaders, 43% said their companies plan to make remote work a permanent option for employees who can do their jobs away from the office. (Source: PwC CFO Pulse Survey, May 4-6.)

A new workshop

So much of human communication is nonverbal—a challenge when important conversations happen virtually. How can we clearly and constructively express empathy, camaraderie, and authority while giving and receiving  feedback, raising disagreement, and resolving conflicts? Join us for a one-hour live Quartz at Work (from home) workshop this Thursday, May 21, at 11am US eastern time.

A quick poll

Does your workplace have enough conflict?

😫 We are overrun with it

🙁 There’s a little more than I’d like

😐 A healthy amount

🙂 Little to none, thank goodness

😞 Zero, and our work suffers for it

Words of wisdom

“Reserve two hours per day for work focused on getting your organization and workforce ready for the future. It will feel like you’re ignoring the urgent, but two hours wisely spent can help keep your company healthy.”—Eva Sage-Gavin, global leader of Accenture’s talent and organizational/human potential practice

+ Read Eva’s piece in Quartz at Work on the five things people in your company need from leaders now.

Special to Quartz members

From 2010 through 2019, the annual number of venture-capital deals nearly tripled. But, like a lot of other things, the boom got interrupted by Covid-19. What’s happened to deal flow around the world? And how much dry powder do VCs have left? Let our presentation get you up to speed, with slides you can reformat and use as you wish. Readers of The Memo can get 40% off the first-year Quartz membership price of $99 by using the code QZFLASHSALE. Sign up for membership here.


Whatever happened to Six Sigma? Before the era of “move fast and break things,” important companies were typically most concerned with quality and precision, cornerstones of the manufacturing system known as Six Sigma. In this gem from our archive, Oliver Staley tracks the parallel declines of Six Sigma and its patron saint, General Electric, and examines the trade-offs between efficiency and innovation.

You got the memo!

Our best wishes for a productive and creative day. Please send any workplace news, comments, Animal Crossing jobs, or Six Sigma belts to Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. This week’s edition of The Memo was produced by Heather Landy and Katherine Bell.