By Aisha Counts
(Bloomberg) — Meta Platforms Inc. employees are slowly starting to enjoy coming into the office more, bouncing back from a morale crisis that set in after 20,000 of their teammates were laid off over the past year. One reason: the company has revived a number of popular pre-pandemic perks, from branded T-shirts to happy hours.
Workers have spent most of the year fearing for their jobs during rolling cuts. Productivity slowed because employees were unsure what to work on, or if they should be working at all. Employees that survived the layoffs were sad that their friends were no longer at the company, and that the perquisites — the little extras that made work fun — were reduced, multiple current and former workers said.
Now, entire divisions of Meta, which owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, are ordering their branded T-shirts again, something that wouldn’t have been considered worth the expense in the past eight months, during Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s declared “year of efficiency.” One employee said they view this as a positive sign about the company’s performance, after two straight quarters beating Wall Street’s expectations on profits and revenue. Meta has also started rehiring some workers who were previously laid off, said other employees, who asked to remain anonymous discussing workplace conditions.
At the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, most restaurants have reopened after their pandemic closures. Dinnertime, which used to be later in the evening, has been moved up to 6 p.m., employees said. Laundry services and haircuts are also back, Thursday happy hours are taking place, and unique vendors have set up food stands — making it more appealing to show up in person, now that in-office work is required three days a week.
A Meta spokesperson confirmed the company is bringing back amenities as employees return to the office. Other perks never left. “Dinner, happy hour and company swag never really went away, merely adjusted given the pandemic and budgets,” said the spokesperson.
Staffers aren’t just noticing that perks exist, but that they seem to be supported — a contrast from last fall, when Meta’s snack bars started to look suspiciously bare, they said. At headquarters, La Croix, the sparkling beverage tinged with fruit “essence” that’s favored by millennials, started to run out in office fridges.
When workers first started noticing the sparser selections, Meta’s stock was posting its worst performance in history. Investors weren’t buying into Zuckerberg’s vision for virtual reality, and advertisers had tightened their budgets. The depressing snack bars presaged a bigger move: Meta’s first major layoff, of 13% of its workforce, or 11,000 employees.
Then in March, Zuckerberg announced that more layoffs were coming, without saying exactly who would be let go, leaving staff on edge. The company made a series of cuts in April and then again in May, reducing its workforce by another 10,000 employees, while closing 5,000 open roles. The drawn-out nature of the firings added to the anxious atmosphere, as employees wondered whether they would lose their jobs or have to say goodbye to the people they were planning future projects with. Other major tech firms announced hiring freezes and layoffs of their own, making the idea of entering the job market more scary.
Now, months after the latest layoffs, Meta employees are more eager to bond and plan with each other. The vibe is much more positive and the mood is better, said one worker, who is most excited about dinnertime coming back. Another, who left the company recently, said they liked a free coffee shop that opened — a new perk that wasn’t there before the layoffs.
Morale at Meta has always tracked closely with the company’s stock performance, which has more than doubled this year to an 18-month high, thanks in part to Zuckerberg’s “efficiency” mandate, and his AI push. Meta predicted double digit sales growth for the current quarter.
But Meta is still dealing with some existential threats: User and revenue growth at its flagship social networks are stagnating; Zuckerberg’s virtual reality efforts continue to drain resources; and progress in artificial intelligence is expensive and in its early stages.
Some evidence of Meta’s cost-cutting remains. Certain perks aren’t as good as they were before the layoffs, workers said. Meta’s laundry service, for example, used to be free, but the company now charges a fee. Some staffers swear the food isn’t as good. And some roles are still being cut, or at least not filled when people leave, the employees said.
If the company pivots again and does another big layoff, all the progress toward restoring morale will be lost, said one of the workers. For now, though, there’s plenty of La Croix to go around.
© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.