Has big tech catfished the workforce? A look behind the lay-offs
While tech giants resort to mass lay-offs in the face of inflation, Hannah Charrington at Wiser advises how to appeal to those in the market for a new role.
Has the tech industry been fooled by a false sense of security? / Daniel K Cheung via Unsplash
If, like me, you watched with dread and delight when TV sensation Catfish's Nev and Kamie investigated whether online romances were as legitimate as they seemed, you may be watching the big tech landscape with the same fascination. When it comes to your career, if expectation doesn’t meet reality, the fall to earth can be painful. Unfortunately, that’s something thousands are experiencing at the moment.
It’s coming up on earning season for the titans of tech and boy are we feeling the fallout. Microsoft released disappointing numbers last week, and a dip in share price indicates investors are feeling jittery. Alphabet is expected to report its third straight quarterly decline, and (Apple one of the top-performing stocks of the last 20 years) is declining to give guidance.
But don’t worry, you haven’t accidentally stumbled into a shareholder meeting. This article isn’t about revenue or profit margins; it’s about the people they affect.
You would have had to be living under a rock to have missed the impact of inflationary pressures and declining ad spend on the tech workforce. Meta laid off 11,000 in early November; Alphabet recently announced 12,000 redundancies; Microsoft 10,000; Amazon, a further 18,000.
We could almost fill London's Etihad Football Stadium with tech workers who were sold a high-earning, redundancy-free dream, only for their reality to turn up looking pretty different. In dating terms, they’ve been catfished.
Selling the dream
In 2014 there was a Forbes article announcing that two million people applied to work at Google each year. Nearly a decade on, I can’t find a more recent figure, but having spent the last year interviewing students and tech-vets alike, I imagine this number hasn’t changed dramatically. Big tech jobs are the ultimate accolade for your CV.
Those jobs come part-and-parcel with brand recognition, big salaries, global opportunities, interesting innovations, and offices kitted out with coffee taps and sleep pods. From the outside, everything looks enticing. No wonder Alphabet is sitting cozy at #7 on Glassdoor’s 2023 ranking of Best Places to Work. So, how does a company flip from being one of the best places to work globally on January 10th, to announcing 12,000 layoffs on January 20th?
Job security is off the table
The problem is that most ‘best place to work’ surveys are retrospective. They speak to the experience that was, not the experience to come.
At Wiser, our approach to building future-proof employer brands goes beyond a central rallying cry. We get to the bottom of what motivates different people. We get under the skin of what a company can meaningfully offer employees and understand which messaging appeals to which audience. Some of our findings feel logical; if you work in customer service roles, you might well like helping people, personal interactions, and having support in your role. Others are more unexpected.
To appeal to those in tech, we’ve encouraged clients to talk about the problems employees will help to solve, their tech stack, and their approach to flexible working. We haven’t, however, pushed messaging about job security: no one could compete with the industry’s top dogs, their stock options and internal mobility promising to set people up with a job for life.
People, not numbers
In 2023, stability might be the greatest differentiator that companies can offer. Tech vacancies are still high, and smaller houses and different categories should take advantage of this reset.
Showing that you care about the individual – that you treat your people as humans and not numbers – will set you apart. Disruption in the talent market leaves room for new leaders to emerge, but you must act fast to distill your company’s offering and attract the best new candidates on the market before someone gets there first. Time to update that LinkedIn profile?
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