Fri, 24 Mar 2023

Uncertainty and Confusion at Google: The Big Layoff

28 Jan 2023, 17:24 GMT+10

On Friday Jan 20th, Alphabet-owned Google announced that it was laying off 12,000 of its employees, which is about 6% of its current workforce. The layoff is the largest in the company's history and follows similar announcements by Microsoft and Amazon in what seems to be an uncertain time for big tech.

The announcement was made by Google CEO Sundar Pichai on the Google blog and follows several cost-cutting measures made by the company, including the shutting down of several projects inside the company. The layoffs have taken place across business units, including at Chrome, Cloud, the experimental Area 120 unit, as well as at the company's AI programs.

Pichai, in an email sent to all employees on Friday, said that: 'we hired for a different economic reality than we face today.' He continued by saying that 'as an almost 25-year old company, we're bound to go through difficult economic cycles. These are important moments to sharpen our focus, reengineer our cost base, and direct our talent and capital to our highest priorities'.

While employees had anticipated a potential layoff, there seems to be further confusion and discontent over the criteria for the layoffs.

Several of the employees that have been laid off were long-tenured at the company, or had recently been promoted. This has raised questions about the criteria for the job cutting, and has left Google employees searching for answers from leadership.

While the company did provide an FAQ for the layoffs, which included a severance package, many employees have complained that it lacks detail and does not provide sufficient answers on criteria for the cuts.

Employees have taken to Dory, the company's platform for asking questions, to find out who has been cut and why. It is reported that company directors have told employees to save their question for the town hall, which is taking place next week, but this does not seem to have satisfied the slew of disgruntled employees.

Some employees have organized makeshift groups in an attempt to find answers. Employees have made a Google doc spreadsheet in order to keep track of those laid off and which part of the business they were employed in.

More than 5,000 of the laid-off employees even created a Discord channel named Google post-layoffs. Topics within this channel have ranged from simply venting about the layoffs to questions about immigration and even to labor organizing. Some have tried to organize both virtual and physical meet-ups to discuss the layoffs.

Parul Koul, executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, put out a statement Friday that reflects some of the frustrations and dismay caused by the decision:

'Alphabet leadership claims 'full responsibility for this decision, but that is little comfort to the 12,000 workers who are now without jobs'.

'This is egregious and unacceptable behavior by a company that made $17 billion dollars in profit last quarter alone'.

The uncertainty in the layoff criteria could lead to Google facing serious challenges in maintaining a productive and motivated workforce. Especially since there is likely to be more confrontations as Google plans to lay off international employees, but has not yet determined which ones.

The Google layoff was announced during a week of high-profile job cuts across the tech industry. On Jan 18th, Amazon began a wave of cuts that affected more than 18,000 people. On the same day, Microsoft announced that it planned to layoff 10,000 workers.

Twitter, under the direction of Elon Musk, has similarly made significant cuts to its workforce, with over half the staff laid off since Musk became CEO in October.

The layoffs come at an uncertain time for tech companies, who are facing several challenges in the current economic climate. These include battling rising inflation and interest rates that have battered technology shares and meant that advertisers have reduced spending on online ads.

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