Big Tech Is Really Bad at Firing People

    Layoffs seem to have come as a surprise to employees at several Big Tech companies, whose failure to communicate has aggravated the anguish among those now out of work.

    At Salesforce, 8,000 employees were laid off in January, but co-CEO Mark Benioff reportedly ducked questions at an all-hands meeting meant to address the cuts. Bowling says his now-ex-Google colleagues also resented that they hadn’t been able to ask any questions of the executives who had let them go. At some companies—notably Twitter, where Elon Musk has cut whole teams as part of a 50 percent reduction in headcount—the firings seem arbitrary.

    “It’s personally embarrassing for myself to have to explain to friends and family members why I’m getting fired,” says one former Meta employee, who was fired as part of the company’s layoffs in late 2022 and requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing her future job prospects. 

    But it isn’t just the suddenness, but also the dehumanizing way that the announcements were made, which rankles staff who have been let go. When it finally came, the email telling Bowling he was being laid off from Google was “legalese,” and was signed off by the company’s vice president without any salutation. 

    “No sincerely, no sorry, nothing,” he says. “It was written by a lawyer, so there was no implied guilt or anything in there. It was so cold. Everything about it was so cold.” 

    The company has historically treated employees fairly well, even when they exit, according to Bowling. “This layoff was so different from the culture of how people leave the company,” he says.

    Google did not respond to a request for comment. 

    But for Susan Schurman, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, the gap between how tech companies portray themselves and how they act was always there.

    “It would be fair to say I’m shocked but not surprised,” Schurman says. “I’m old enough to have been brought up in a so-called 20th-century organization, where you could say workers are viewed as expendable commodities.”

    Attitudes toward staff have also worsened during the pandemic, according to Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology at the University of Manchester Business School. Remote working created a greater separation between managers and their employees. “There was less face-to-face contact, and much more of their communications were virtual,” he says. “That could create a situation where you don’t develop a close relationship with your employees, if you’re a line manager.”

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