wave of layoffs
Mass layoffs instead of a ball pool: How the dream job in Silicon Valley became a nightmare
Generous salaries, a friendly environment and lots of goodies: Silicon Valley has long been considered a dream job. But with the recent waves of layoffs, that should be over.
It was a simple philosophy: when employees feel good, they like to work. After this idea, the tech companies blossomed into enormously attractive jobs. With the recent waves of layoffs, however, the image of the dream job in Silicon Valley has burst. Not only the handling of the dismissed makes for a bitter taste.
As if it weren’t bad enough that tens of thousands of employees at tech giants Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Twitter have been fired from the streets in recent months, the nature of the layoffs often makes it even worse. Instead of engaging in respectful conversations, many of those laid off only found out about their dismissal when they were denied access to the office or to logging into the work computer. Others were notified of the end of their corporate tenure through mass emails or blog posts. The fact that this was possible is also shown by the change in Silicon Valley itself. The valley of the unconventional visionaries has long since become a completely normal business.
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The end of the fun office?
Many of the tech companies had just set out to do things differently. Often founded during or shortly after university, many of the tech founders wanted to find their own way of working. The dress code was loose, the hierarchies flat. “We are not an ordinary company,” announced the Google founders in 2004 in their first letter to their investors. The demarcation from the classic economy was also a proud, rebellious attitude.
It is no coincidence that the start-up cliché also includes a much more playful working atmosphere. Google and other companies lured people into their headquarters with colorful, friendly offices, complete with meetings in the ball pit and evening billiards in the common room. Experimentation was also welcome: For many years, every Google employee was free to use 20 percent of their working time for passion projects.
Of course, this great freedom also had its advantages for the companies. When office workers are having fun, they are more willing to devote more of their free time to the job. And a greater willingness to listen to employees and act on their suggestions can lead to greater innovation. Above all, however, it is a clear advantage in the battle for the greatest talent. Together with the good salaries, this was a measurable success: According to the employees, eleven companies from the tech sector are in the top 20 among the most popular employers in the USA, according to “Glassdoor” in January. Google was even considered the most attractive place to work in several countries – even in the already worker-friendly Scandinavian countries.
Silicon Valley is growing up
But in recent years, thinking in Silicon Valley has changed. Of the five largest tech companies Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook) and Microsoft, only Meta is still managed by its founder, all others have passed the helm to successors. There are also more and more economic experts instead of visionaries at the management levels. And: Many of the extremely experimental efforts are no longer part of the original group.
Where Google once operated crazy projects like the Internet via hot air balloons (Project Loon) under the same brand and Facebook launched its virtual reality endeavors in the same house, both have long since been outsourced. Alphabet and Meta are now doing the experiments in their own companies – while the employees of Google and Facebook are supposed to concentrate on their core business with advertising.
A fairly banal fact plays a major role in this development: Silicon Valley has also matured with its economic success. Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are among the most valuable corporations in the world. And they have to justify themselves to their shareholders accordingly. The fact that the industry is now laying off tens of thousands of employees may also be due to pressure from Wall Street. The first episodes existed before the cancellations. While there were attempts to lure employees into the office with parties and concerts last summer, these events have been scaled back more and more. A Google employee told CNN that other benefits, such as free massages, were also removed. “Many of us were hoping that we could save so much that it would save our jobs.”
This hope was not only disappointed, it was actually destroyed. When the waves of layoffs rolled out at Google, Twitter and other companies, reports quickly made the rounds of how ruthlessly many of the employees had been fired. Twitter employees were logged out of nowhere from work laptops, having to wait days for confirmation that they had been fired. Many of the employees only found out that they no longer worked there when they were refused entry to the office. A Google employee was hit particularly hard: she learned during the birth of her daughter that she had been fired, she reported on Linked.in. Even after tens of thousands lost their jobs, the remaining employees could not feel safe. The companies repeatedly reported additional layoffs. Most recently, Amazon put another 9,000 employees out the door this week – after 18,000 had to leave the company in January.
The image of the dream job in Silicon Valley will probably suffer from these impressions in the long term. After all, what good are promises of a different approach to work and fun in the office if employees are quickly and unhesitatingly shown the door at the sign of a crisis?
The tech giant, which least corresponds to the start-up cliché, shows how things can be done differently. Apple also has a reputation as a good employer. However, the group never had the fun image of a Google. Now it is proving itself in a different way: According to reports, the iPhone group is trying to master the current economic challenges primarily through savings. This is to avoid mass layoffs in the style of the competition. For the reputation as an employer, that should be better than any ball pool.