Meta, Google learn the art of the quiet layoff

You're not being fired, we're just unable to facilitate your sustained employment

Forget quiet quitting. Meta and Google have learned the art of the quiet layoff: telling staff to pick new roles after reorganizing or disbanding teams, and running out the clock on the reapplication process until some are left with no job.

It's still essentially a layoff, albeit small, and it's less likely to draw attention or get widely reported. It's akin to IBM, Oracle, and other companies that, in the past, have made little, gradual cuts here and there to fly a greater overall layoff plan under the radar. It may also foreshadow a greater cull of staff at some point.

Troubles at Meta are well known, with the Facebook parent this year encountering a dip in revenue and daily active users at one point, while admitting it torched $10 billion on metaverse stuff and that its ad sales have been substantially hurt by Apple's drive to let iOS users opt out of online tracking. The business also ballooned in size during the pandemic, arguably becoming bloated and unwieldy.

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

Here's where those quiet layoffs come in.

Meta has a policy of giving employees – like those in RIT – 30 days to find a new role at the company, after which point they're out of a job if they somehow haven't secured a seat. Because tech darlings like Meta usually set a relatively high hiring bar, it's assumed staff are generally smart enough to keep and will find another team somewhere.

According to Meta employees and managers who spoke to the Wall Street Journal for a report out today, this process is pretty typical – but something has changed: where previously it was normal to fall quickly into a new role, "workers with good reputations and strong performance reviews are being pushed out on a regular basis." 

Whereas reshuffles happened previously at Meta without too many people losing their jobs, now even competent, capable ones are being shown the door, in dribs and drabs. It's reported that Facebook wants to cut costs by at least 10 percent, which mean reduced employment. It's not just the duds being let go, but normal staff, too.

Over at Google, roughly half of the 100-plus staff at its Area 120 startup incubator were this month given 90 days to find other jobs within the mega-corp. In March, there was also internal pressure to give more than 100 people facing the chop in Google Cloud 180 days to find new teams, rather than 60. As with Meta, it's expected that Googlers will find other teams to slot into.

A spokesperson for Google told the WSJ almost 95 percent of workers who expressed an interest in staying found new roles in time. Or, to put it another way, more than five percent didn't and were axed. 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 had to be upped by twenty percent, a call that came only three months after the corporation slowed hiring after going on a recruitment spree during the coronavirus pandemic.

Per the WSJ's story, Meta had 83,553 employees at the end of Q2 2022, 32 percent more than the same time last year. Google parent company Alphabet counted 174,014 heads in Q2, a 20.8 percent increase from the same period in 2021. Now both companies are seemingly struggling to handle or get the most out of those new folks.

Google's CFO said earlier this year that headcount was the primary driver of expense for the company, and leadership at Facebook and elsewhere have made similar statements. Amazon's CFO said that a Q1 hiring push amid the Omicron-phase of the coronavirus outbreak had left his company overstaffed as well.

Meta seemed to be taking a different approach to layoffs, with Zuckerberg directing managers in June to aggressively terminate low-performing employees. As we wrote then, this was quite possibly a way for Meta to push through some layoffs without actually admitting it was doing so, which draws bad press and other negative attention.

This time around it looks as though Google and Meta have learned a lesson: don't dump people and fuel layoff rumors, or put out statements confirming as much. Instead, just merge and close teams, tell the press you're reassigning workers, shrug when displaced employees ask about those roles, and let them time out of the system a couple of months later. ®

PS: This article was written from a US perspective. We know that in other places, like the UK at least, companies by law have to make some effort, however token, to find you other work within the org if you're made redundant, generally speaking. America, not so much.

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