Commentary: Can Facebook maintain staff morale?

Commentary: Can Facebook maintain staff morale?

While Facebook employees still praise the free food and other perks, fewer are optimistic about the company's future, the Financial Times’ Hannah Kuchler points out.

Facebook launched its "war room," pictured in October 2018, at its Menlo Park headquarters
Employees work in Facebook's "War Room" during a media demonstration in Menlo Park, California. (Photo: AFP/NOAH BERGER)

SAN FRANCISCO: This year Facebook tops the rankings for best place to work in the US, according to the employer-ratings platform Glassdoor. Lauded for its “stellar leadership”, “top-notch culture” and “meaningful, exciting work”, the social-media platform won Glassdoor’s number-one spot for the third time in eight years.

But will two years of allegations of undermining democracy take its toll? The heat on the company continues to rise, as this week’s UK parliamentary hearing in front of lawmakers from five countries shows. 

READ: Singapore MPs to participate in international hearing on fake news in London

A recent internal employee survey, first reported in The Wall Street Journal, found just over half of Facebook staff were optimistic about its future, down 32 points from the year before.

Only 53 per cent — down 19 points — said the company was making the world a better place, a core ambition at many Big Tech companies.

A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person's eye, in Zenica
A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person's eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Even on Glassdoor, signs of discontent are surfacing. While many reviewers praise the free food and other perks for Facebook employees, its rating has slipped slightly. 

In recent posts, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his COO Sheryl Sandberg do not get off lightly. One complained that senior management seem perpetually surprised when employees call out their “callousness” and “ineptitude”.

Another wrote that it was “really tough to be reactively responding to issues of such mammoth import” as Russian election meddling, fake/misleading news, the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and “data breaches left and right”. 

READ: We need to talk about the mental health of content moderators, a commentary

They added, however, that “There’s concerted, co-ordinated effort here to right the ship and get out ahead of these issues.”

INTERNAL CRASH IN MORALE

I have written before about how pride in your company is becoming the most sought-after asset in Silicon Valley. 

Tech companies must listen to employees, who hold power in a tight talent market, particularly when shareholders are often stifled by founders’ majority voting rights, and user boycotts have made little difference to their bottom lines.

We are now seeing how an internal crash in morale can have an impact on these companies. 

Zuckerberg said he thought the increase in leaks to the press was due to low employee morale, according to a recent piece in The New York Times. 

Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology sum
Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacts as he speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

READ: Someone needs to do something about Facebook — but what? A commentary

In Facebook’s London offices, employees are encouraged to express how they feel in emojis that are then posted to an electronic wall. 

On a recent visit, a colleague saw a sea of sad faces. At Google, employees organised a worldwide walkout last month, accusing the company of mishandling sexual harassment claims.

Google’s management assured employees there would be no repercussions for workers who protested and later agreed to many of their demands. David Lassman, professor of organisational management at Carnegie Mellon University, believes Google took a “really good approach”. Now, of course, it must follow through.

Google’s problems seem more within its control than Facebook’s. It can decide to quit contracts and change internal policies, while Facebook must dream that it could flick a switch to prevent the platform being used for nefarious purposes. It needs its employees to be more committed than ever.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY 

Part of Facebook’s problem is a lack of transparency with staff, who are thus unpleasantly surprised when bad headlines land. “If you’re an employee, you’re thinking: ‘If they are not being as forthright about this, what else are they not telling us about?’” Lassman says. 

Nothing beats telling the truth ... but in doing that your stock might go down the toilet.

This presents a dilemma for Facebook. A significant proportion of tech employees’ compensation is paid in options, so it is arguably not always in their financial interest for the company to be completely transparent when problems arise. 

The Facebook logo and emoticons are seen on a coffee mug at the reception of its new office in Mumb
The Facebook logo and emoticons are seen on a coffee mug at the reception of its new office in Mumbai, India May 27, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo)

Falling stock can lead to bad morale — and push employees into the arms of companies with a more buoyant share price. Currently, the stock is at its lowest in nearly 22 months.

Those employees primarily motivated by money should be allowed to leave — and those motivated by the mission should get no more ugly surprises. 

Many Silicon Valley employees really do want to change the world and cleaning up the platform is an opportunity to do just that. If Facebook’s management is open and honest about the company’s troubles, it might lure new employees with exactly the right qualities to do this important work.

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Source: Financial Times/nr

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