Tuesday, March 5

Google’s once-happy offices are feeling the chill of layoffs

When Diane Hirsh’s colleague Theriault returned from lunch at the Google office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one October afternoon, her work badge couldn’t open a turnstile. He quickly realized that this was a sign that he had been fired.

Dr. Hirsh Theriault soon learned that most of his fellow engineers at Google News in Cambridge had also lost their jobs. More than 40 people in the information division were eliminated, a company union said, although a number of them were later offered jobs elsewhere within Google.

Dr. Hirsh Thériault’s experience is increasingly common at Google, where repeated job cuts in recent months, after a year of significant layoffs, are putting employees on edge. The layoffs slowed projects and prompted employees to spend hours trying to figure out which workgroups were affected and who might be affected next, said 10 current and former Google employees, some of whom requested anonymity. so that they can speak frankly about their work. .

Additionally, the layoffs changed the narrative that had long defined work at Google: it was more of a DIY community than a workaday office, where creativity and outside-the-box thinking were encouraged . That it was a fun and different place to work.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said more than a year ago that the company would cut 12,000 jobs, or 6% of the workforce. describing it as “a difficult decision to prepare us for the future”.

Those reductions were rolled into what Mr. Pichai said this year could be much smaller, phased layoffs throughout the year. Since the beginning of January, the company has cut more than a thousand jobs, affecting its ad sales division, YouTube and employees working on the company’s voice assistant.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it was trying to cut spending to fund its growing investments in artificial intelligence. And Google is trying to reduce levels of bureaucracy so employees can focus on the company’s biggest priorities, Courtenay Mencini said at a Google event. The company added that it is not making company-wide layoffs and that reorganizations are part of the normal course of business.

“The reality is that to create the capacity necessary for this investment, we must make difficult choices,” Mr. Pichai wrote in a memo to employees on January 17. For some divisions, “this means reorganizing and, in some cases, eliminating roles.” Teams could still eliminate additional roles throughout the year, he added.

Employees say the mood in the workplace has become gloomy. As Google shifts gears to develop artificial intelligence products and keep pace with rivals like Microsoft and startup OpenAI, some of the humans who build the company’s technology are feeling less important.

Now, “the buildings are half empty at 4:30 p.m.,” writes Dr. Hirsh Thériault in a press release. LinkedIn Post. “I know a lot of people, myself included, who happily did extra work in the evenings and weekends to finish the demo or just out of boredom. Let’s go.

Layoffs at Google have been smaller than those at other big tech companies like Meta. And as a percentage of the company’s total workforce, these cuts are far smaller than recent cuts at companies like Xerox and live-streaming platform Twitch. Google’s full-time workforce stood at 182,502 people at the end of 2023, just 4% less than at the end of 2022. On Tuesday, the company announced that it had a profit of 20.7 billion dollars in the last quarter of 2023, up 52% ​​year-on-year. earlier.

But the job cuts at Google have accompanied broader changes to how the company operates, reshuffling work groups and eliminating layers of management. Workers complain that the reorganization was carried out in a chaotic and poorly communicated manner.

When YouTube laid off one of its vendor management teams, responsible for approving purchase orders so that content moderation companies get paid, the company failed to notify other groups that rely on the team, one person said, although some of the workers were offered the chance to get their jobs back.

When layoffs resumed in January, a Google employee in Switzerland launched an internal document allowing employees to track job cuts because the company hadn’t told them much about where it was making the cuts. job cuts. The document has become a vital source of information, employees said, along with news reports, social media and old-fashioned rumors in the office.

“From an HR perspective, it’s a nightmare,” said Meghan M. Biro, whose company TalentCulture creates content on human resources best practices. “This completely subverts their image as a desirable employer.”

Google said leaders communicated clearly to teams when they were experiencing changes.

Workers have warned in interviews that some cuts could disrupt parts of the company that are already struggling to complete thorny tasks. In January, Google cut hundreds of employees from its core engineering organization, responsible for its infrastructure and tools used across the company.

One of the main priorities of the main division is help Google comply with the European Digital Markets Act when the law comes into force on March 6. The law will force tech giants to show consumers their choices in online services, such as web browsers, and require them to obtain consent to share user data within the company. But employees working on those efforts worry that the company is behind schedule and that it could be difficult for Google to fully comply with the deadline, two people familiar with the matter said.

Google said it had already started rolling out consent screens for European users in January and planned to introduce more changes before the deadline. She added that recent job cuts in its core division would not affect the schedule.

Google employees have long been encouraged to work on experimental projects. But doing anything experimental has proven risky over the past year, said four workers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The business has all but closed Area 120its internal incubator which attempted to develop new products and services, and changed the strategy of X, a “moonshot factory” that attempted to create new businesses.

Google said employees were constantly doing “extraordinarily innovative and ambitious things across the company.”

Employees are more reluctant to ask for the so-called 20 percent, or side projects, which used to be a way to explore an idea outside of their regular work that they found compelling, five people said. It’s an unfortunate change for Rupert Breheny, who spent 16 years at Google, mostly in Zurich, working on products like Google Street View in Maps.

“What brought you to Google was passion,” said Mr. Breheny, who was laid off last summer. “You could have fun doing stuff.” “It stayed like that for a long time.”