Meta and Google cut staff via quiet layoffs • The Register

Forget to stop quietly. Meta and Google have learned the art of silent layoffs: telling staff to pick new roles after teams reorganize or disband, and clock the re-application process until some are out of a job.

It’s still essentially a layoff, albeit minor, and less likely to attract attention or be widely reported. It’s akin to IBM, Oracle, and other companies that have made small, gradual cuts here and there in the past to get a bigger general layoff plan under the radar. It could also be a harbinger of greater staff cull at some point.

The problems at Meta are well known, with the Facebook parent at one point this year experiencing a drop in revenue and daily active users, while admitting it had fired $10 billion worth of metaverse stuff and ad sales was significantly harmed by Apple’s efforts to opt out iOS users from online tracking. The company also grew tremendously during the pandemic and was arguably bloated and impractical.

In response, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg called on his mega-corp to shape up, turn up the heat and lose the dead weight, leading to things like the dissolution of his Responsible Innovation Team (RIT) earlier this month.

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This is where those silent layoffs come in.

Meta has a policy of giving employees — like those in RIT — 30 days to find a new position with the company, after which they’ll be out of a job if they’re somehow out of position. Since tech sweethearts like Meta usually set a relatively high bar for hiring, it’s believed that employees are generally smart enough to keep and find another team somewhere.

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According to Meta employees and executives who spoke to the Wall Street Journal for a report today, this process is quite typical — but something has changed: where before it was normal to quickly fall into a new role, “employees in good standing and strong performance reviews are pushed out regularly.”

Where previously Meta reshuffles took place without too many people losing their jobs, now even competent, capable people are shown the door, drop and drop. Facebook reportedly wants to cut costs by at least 10 percent, which equates to less employment. It’s not just the duds that get released, but the normal staff as well.

At Google, about half of the more than 100 employees at the startup incubator Area 120 were given 90 days this month to find other jobs within the mega-corporation. In March, there was also internal pressure to give more than 100 people in Google Cloud 180 days to find new teams instead of 60. As with Meta, Googlers are expected to find other teams to fit in.

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A Google spokesperson told the WSJ that nearly 95 percent of employees who expressed an interest in staying found a new position on time. Or, to put it another way, more than five percent did not and were fired. No doubt other parts of the workforce will be or have been trimmed in this way.

The cuts at Google come not long after CEO Sundar Pichai said productivity at the web giant needed to be increased by 20 percent, a call that came just three months after the company delayed hiring following a recruitment drive during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the WSJ’s story, Meta had 83,553 employees at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up 32 percent from the same time last year. Google parent Alphabet had 174,014 headlines in the second quarter, up 20.8 percent from the same period in 2021. Now, both companies appear to be struggling to deal with or get the most out of those new people.

Google’s CFO said earlier this year that workforce was the company’s top expense, and leadership at Facebook and elsewhere has made similar statements. Amazon’s CFO said a first-quarter recruiting campaign amid the Omicron phase of the coronavirus outbreak had also left his company overstocked.

Meta appeared to be taking a different approach to layoffs, with Zuckerberg instructing managers in June to aggressively fire underperforming employees. As we wrote at the time, this was a very good way for Meta to push through some layoffs without really admitting that it did, attracting bad press and other negative attention.

This time around, it seems like Google and Meta have learned a lesson: don’t dump people, don’t feed rumors of layoffs, or make statements confirming it. Instead, you merge and shut down teams, tell the press you’re transferring employees, shrug when laid-off employees ask about those roles, and let them disappear from the system a few months later. ®

PS: This article is written from an American perspective. We know that in other places, like at least the UK, the law requires companies to make some effort, however symbolic, to find you other work within the organization if you are generally fired. America, not so much.

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