As Meta flounders, Mark Zuckerberg leans on employees to right the ship.
“ZUCK TURNS UP THE HEAT,” declared The Verge yesterday in all-caps. “As Meta’s growth slows, Mark Zuckerberg is pushing even harder. Will his employees melt under the pressure?”
The headline, appearing as it did above a “Like” thumbs-up ice sculpture melting into a puddle, didn’t bode well for Zuckerberg, or for Facebook/Meta.
Tesla billionaire Elon Musk has a “bad feeling” about the U.S. economy, and he isn’t the only scion of Austin, Texas- nee Silicon Valley- to express such a pessimistic sentiment recently.
Besides the formerly untouchables of Big Tech reporting falling stock prices and subscriber atrophy for the first time, other industries have been echoing Musk’s concerns via the universal language of business: Major losses.
While plenty of economists are still determinedly hoping for the best, and trying- perhaps vainly- to put as bright a veneer on the current economic state of the union as possible, not everyone shares their optimism.
Low unemployment is wonderful, and a perfectly viable economic metric. Unemployment is also a lagging economic indicator. Most people understand how an economic downturn works: First, companies lose money as consumers spend less. Next, like night follows day, companies start layoffs, downsizing, furloughs.
Call it whatever you want: “That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” as Shakespeare once opined correctly. What you call a thing doesn’t change its nature.
“Meta reports earnings, revenue miss and forecasts second straight quarter of declining sales,” wrote Jonathan Vanian for CNBC on July 27, 2022.
“Meta missed on the top and bottom lines and gave a troubling forecast for the third quarter,” concluded Vanian. “The shares have lost about half their value this year as marketers pull back on ad spending. The company said its guidance reflects ‘continuation of the weak advertising demand environment’.”
“These continue to be turbulent times for the global economy,” Meta operating chief Sheryl Sandberg said during a recent Meta earnings call. “Many of the macro factors having an impact on our revenue are continuations of things we have seen in the previous quarters, such as a continued impact of the war in Ukraine and the normalization of e-commerce after the pandemic peak. But there are also new challenges with rising inflation and uncertainty around a looming recession.”
“This is a period that demands more intensity and I expect us to get more done with fewer resources,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees and analysts on an “all hands on deck” call June 30, 2022.
“Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,” Zuckerberg said during the call, according to a recording leaked to The Verge.
“And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you,” Meta’s CEO continued blithely. “And that self-selection is okay with me.”
This new, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” mentality from Meta’s leader fell with a thud into company backchannels, meeting no small amount of resistance from nettled employees.
They have a point: This is a far cry from the pandemic-era Mark Zuckerberg, who told The Verge in May of 2020 that, “We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale.”
Zuckerberg made good on his word. During the pandemic, all company employees benefitted from a blanket HR “exceeds expectations” review, extra vacation days, cash bonuses, and endless flexibility.
As of July 2022, however, Zuckerberg is singing a different tune. After his strictures on an upcoming period of much harder work, belt-tightening and intense focus, after warning that “one of the worst downturns that we’ve seen in recent history” will soon be upon us, employees were allowed to ask questions.
The first question was asked by Gary from Chicago: “Will Meta Days (extra vacation given to employees during the pandemic) continue in 2023?”
A visibly annoyed and frustrated Mark Zuckerberg replied: “Given my tone in the rest of the Q & A, you can probably imagine what my reaction to this is,” he answered curtly.
Needless to say, neither Gary in Chicago nor any other Meta employees will be getting extra vacation days in the foreseeable future.
Cancelling Meta Days was probably the easy part. Reacclimatizing employees who have become used to lax rules adopted during the pandemic to the rigors of corporate America might prove much more difficult, if not impossible.
The COVID19 pandemic, and more specifically the long-term shut-downs that accompanied it- especially in places like California, where Meta is headquartered- have altered old workplace patterns, and not all for the better.
San Francisco, for instance, is having a great deal of trouble at the moment getting San Franciscans and tourists back downtown. Downtown San Francisco, practically emptied out during the many long months of pandemic shut downs, is not bouncing back.
Of the many plans proposed by city managers and local leaders to reverse the problem and revive the downtown cultural center for which the City by the Bay has long been known, some seem more viable than others.
Some of the proposed strategies- for instance, more live musical hosted by small and mid-size downtown businesses- sound a bit like proposing a bake-sale to cover the cost of a new kidney.
As in, even if it works, it is unlikely to make much of a difference in restoring downtown San Francisco- not to its former glory, probably not even back from the brink of dystopian collapse and critical tax-base erosion.
One of the proposed strategies which might actually make a difference to the struggling small and mid-size businesses desperately hanging on downtown, would be to require San Francisco’s roughly 35,000 city employees to return to the office full-time. As it is, many city employees are still spending the better part of every work week working from home.
Any attempts to take this sensible measure, however, have been met with instant uproar from city employees who have grown accustomed to the “new normal” and are in no hurry to brave the newly crime-ridden streets of downtown SF.
It’s the ultimate catch-22: San Francisco needs people to return downtown in order to deter the crime which has filled the vacuum left by a dearth of professional foot traffic; no one wants to return downtown because of the rampant crime and open-air drug use.
According to The Verge, reporting on the highest-level inner workings of Meta/Facebook, this is the dawn of a new era at the company. If the company means to survive the coming gauntlet of dire economic challenges, “the days of coddling employees would be over.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)