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Facebook workers fear cuts after blunt warnings from Zuckerberg, leaders

Mark Zuckerberg speaks Oct. 23, 2019, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.  (Bloomberg )
By Naomi Nix Washington Post

Facebook has a message for employees, one delivered relentlessly by executives in recent weeks: It’s time to shape up.

In a memo earlier this month, the company’s top human resources officer advised team leaders to return to the “rigorous performance management” practices that Facebook used before the coronavirus pandemic, including giving critical feedback to struggling employees.

“If someone is still unable to meet expectations with that additional support, transitioning them out of Meta is the right thing to do,” wrote Lori Goler in a memo viewed by the Washington Post.

The missive, one of multiple recent such messages to the workforce at the social media giant, is part of a broader crackdown following years of laxer management practices, according to current and former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters and internal message posts obtained by the Post.

Facebook executives have issued a dizzying number of directives, outlining a new era of higher performance expectations and slowed hiring as the company emerges from the pandemic with a growing list of economic challenges.

“The atmosphere is intense,” said one of the employees. “People know budgets are being cut.”

Also on Wednesday, Meta reported its first quarterly revenue decline in a decade as a publicly traded company, foreshadowing a rocky economic chapter for the digital advertising behemoth.

The company said it earned $28.8 billion during the second quarter of 2022, representing a 0.88% drop from what it earned during the same time period last year.

That revenue figure was also lower than the $28.9 billion Wall Street analysts were predicting, according to a Bloomberg compilation of their estimates. Facebook’s stock declined in after-market trading.

The blunt messaging from company leaders has created a wave of anxiety and resentment among Facebook’s workforce as many employees wonder how the company’s new priorities will affect their own careers, according to the current and former employees.

Some are worried that they could lose their jobs or see their annual bonuses reduced.

Others are concerned that an already rigorous corporate environment will grow even more competitive as employees jockey for fewer promotions, raises and coveted positions, the people said.

“Any company that wants to have a lasting impact must practice disciplined prioritization and work with a high level of intensity to reach goals,” Facebook spokesman Tracy Clayton said in a statement.

Once the symbol of Silicon Valley’s prosperity, Facebook has for years offered its employees state-of-the-art perks such as free food, generous family benefits and some of the highest salaries across the technology industry.

The lucrative compensation, along with the allure of tackling interesting problems at a company transforming the way billions communicate, gave Facebook an edge to recruit and retain top-notch talent.

Now that mystique is cracking as Facebook grapples with both the macroeconomic challenges dragging down many tech companies and specific threats to its business.

The company’s stock price has been slashed in half this year, following dismal earnings in March reflecting that its advertising business was harmed by Apple’s decision to impose a new privacy rule to block data collection for targeted advertising.

Meanwhile, growth at its flagship social network stalled for the first time last year as the company faces unprecedented competition for young users, creators and advertiser dollars from newer social media platforms, such as TikTok and Snapchat.

The company last year changed its name to Meta, reflecting a big bet to stake its future on building out the so-called metaverse.

The division, aiming to build immersive digital realms accessed by virtual-reality-powered devices, is, for now, a money-losing endeavor, according to company filings.

That means many Facebook managers and human resources representatives are being asked to shoulder a brand new responsibility – lead a 77,000-member workforce during a downturn.

“Morale, not just at Facebook but across big tech, has gone down significantly because it’s been a fairy tale story over the last decade,” said Dan Ives, an analyst at the financial services firm Wedbush Securities.

Now, between the metaverse and specific business challenges, “it’s a darker chapter for the company that they need to navigate.”

There are signs that Facebook is making changes.

The company recently reallocated people away from its Facebook News tab and newsletter platform Bulletin as those teams focus on luring creators to their social networks, according to the company.

And at least one full-time employee has already been told his or her role is no longer necessary and they should look for another job within the company or leave, according to an employee familiar with the matter.

Facebook Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams said in an interview last week that the company hasn’t imposed an official hiring freeze but acknowledged some hiring targets for certain roles or departments are changing.

She said team leaders are being asked to look at which open roles are truly necessary and which aren’t.

Managers may also move employees from low-priority roles onto projects that are more important, Williams said.

“How we’re going about it is sort of reminding managers like you need to focus,” Williams said. “If we don’t focus well, we’ll be like spread everywhere, doing everything and doing nothing very well.”

Zuckerberg and other executives have also indicated in recent weeks that time is up for employees who don’t meet the company’s standards.

Facebook’s head of engineering, Maher Saba, sent a memo to managers earlier this month encouraging them to identify their low performers and put them into an internal human resources system.

“As a manager, you cannot allow someone to be net neutral or negative for Meta,” Saba said.

Many inside Facebook are worried the strong rhetoric from executives about the need to weed out the low-performers is just a cover to start making larger cuts – ones that may include workers performing adequately.

That anxiety has been evident on Blind, a workplace app that gives users with a Facebook email unrestricted access to a private and anonymous message board.

The forum, usually a place where Facebook employees offer their unvarnished opinions about their workplace, has in recent weeks turned into a breeding ground for worker resentment, concern about the financial direction of the company and anxieties about a future with the company, according to messages viewed by the Post.

“It is sad after many years in Meta things (are going down) this path, the culture is going to hell,” wrote one user. “Before you say it, I am leaving, just waiting for my Sept bonus pay as I did work hard to earn it.”

“Does anyone feel secure here?” posted another employee.Williams and others inside Facebook have argued that executives’ focus on targeting of low performers reflects a desire to instill the rigorous culture of employee performance management that existed before the pandemic.

In early 2020, Facebook suspended its biannual performance reviews and offered generous covid-19 leave policies so that employees felt free to juggle the demands of home with their jobs.

Some employees agree that the management culture at Facebook did – in some cases – become a little too soft during the pandemic.

Williams said that it likely depends on when the employee started working for Facebook, and how long they’ve been in the workforce.

Those who worked for other companies likely have experienced this culture before.

But Facebook workers also fear that the economic uncertainties and the company’s belt-tightening will make it more difficult to gain promotions, better pay or more lucrative bonuses , the people said.

In Silicon Valley, stock typically makes up a large portion of compensation, and a drop makes it harder for companies to attract and retain talent.

“I’m honestly just thinking about taking a break and live off savings or do something low key until this economic cycle passes,” wrote one user on Blind. “I don’t want to work under constant pressure.”

Another factor that is adding to the uncertainty is the company switch from a twice-a-year schedule for performance reviews.

Clayton said in a statement the company adopted the new model, with a single review per year, to “better reflect the direction of the company with remote work in mind.”

He added that employees “have always been held accountable to a goal-based culture of high performance.”

Typically, managers were advised to give out a wide range of ratings for their reports, from that employee is only meeting some expectations of their job to that worker is redefining the expectations of their role, according to current and former employees.

Then managers – in coordination with the human resources department – made sure the ratings are “calibrated” across teams, with at least some employees receiving lower ratings, the people said.

While the rigidity of the process appeared fair on paper, in practice, it meant some good workers ended up getting lower ratings simply because their manager is pressured to fill the category, according to some of the employees.

If Facebook wants to cut down the size of its workforce, it could make it harder to achieve higher ratings and easier to receive low ones.

“This feels like a shift in the internal culture. If I were still there, it would certainly make me feel more nervous than I ever did about reviews,” said Crystal Patterson, a former Facebook lobbyist.

“The evaluation process is just naturally stressful. The bar is extremely high there.”