Brands have a bigger problem than fickle consumers

SUMMARY: Employees are not happy, and work will pay the price. 80% of people who quit their roles in search of greener pastures regretted the move, and the vast majority admitted they still want their old parts back. If you think employees are loyal to your company, you had better think again. Unhappy employees lead to lost market share.

We’re seeing more and more job seekers prioritizing work-life balance and positive workplace culture above higher compensation. People want to be happy in their work, and that old adage that ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ is showing up more and more.

The most common reason job-hoppers gave for wanting a return to their former employers was that they missed their old colleagues, with almost a third of respondents saying they missed their former teams.

A range of monetary motivations followed this: 27% said they missed their old salary, 23% valued their old bonus scheme, and 23% said they missed their health insurance.

The grass was not greener on the other side.

Then there is this quote from Forbes magazine:

You need to accept the fact that no one is going to save you. You are on your own. Your company is looking after its own interests, and you must do the same. Think of what’s best for you and take actions that benefit your career.

This is a new, hard reality for tech workers who were coddled.

How some of the most-respected companies conducted layoffs was shocking. Google, for instance, let 12,000 people go via a cold email. According to reports, there was no clarity over why people were selected for downsizing. Google workers were not told if it was due to their ratings, compensation, or tied to any specific metrics. CNBC reported, “Employees have flooded Dory, the company’s question-asking platform, and set up virtual communities to figure out who’s been laid off and why.” In response, employees were told by directors to hold questions for the town hall that took place the following week. At Twitter, Elon Musk gave an ultimatum, demanding only “hardcore workers.” Top companies, including Meta, Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft, almost daily announce layoffs.

The consequences of executive decisions fell upon the workers. A handful of executives apologized and accepted modest pay cuts, which will most likely be made up for with refresher stock six months later. Their actions show that the company is neither your friend nor family. The relationship between the worker and management is purely business—nothing personal. They’ll say you’re a family, but when the chips are down, you’re given the ax and told that your services are no longer required in an email.

It’s even worse when CEOs make strategic mistakes and take them out on employees.

In an attempt to explain why the company had laid off 12,000 employees, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said executives decided to slash jobs after a “rigorous review” of Google’s internal structures and organization.

While Pichai, who made $280 million in compensation in 2019, said he took “full responsibility for the decisions that led us here,” he failed to elucidate those choices. He didn’t mention that during his time at the helm, Google has been hit with billions of dollars worth of antitrust fines, been left in the dust by OpenAI’s ChatGPT despite “pivoting the company to be AI-first,” and seen its core search product get steadily worse. And though Pichai later said at a company town hall that “all roles above the senior-vice-president level will witness a very significant reduction in their annual bonus,” including his own, the vast majority of the pain from his missteps seemed to fall squarely on the shoulders of the 12,000 people who were let go. The employees who were laid off — via email — included several high-performing staff members and longtime employees, such as an engineer who’d been at the company for 20 years and who described the sudden layoff as a “slap in the face.”

This sort of responsibility dodging is running rampant around Silicon Valley. CEOs at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Meta set their companies on an unsustainable course, investing in boneheaded new ventures and assuming the pandemic-driven tech boom would be a new normal. Now that those expectations have been shattered, rank-and-file tech workers bear the brunt of these bad decisions, while the executives responsible for the messes face little to no meaningful consequences.

In their layoff announcements, almost every tech company blamed the cuts on the economy. But in many instances, the real source of concern at these companies comes down to boneheaded decisions made by CEOs — whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg at the company formerly known as Facebook, who authorized a hiring binge over the pandemic and invested billions of dollars into his metaverse folly before having to cut 11,000 jobs, or Tobi Lütke at Shopify, who laid off 1,000 people based on a bet on the future of e-commerce that “didn’t pay off.”

While many of these companies have made severe strategic blunders, layoffs won’t solve those problems — cutting workers won’t suddenly make the companies more productive or improve their products.

The blame-shifting of these tech companies and their CEOs is not unprecedented or even that uncommon. Corporate America has pledged allegiance to the almighty executive, applying a different evaluation matrix to CEOs than other employees. Because of this toxic admiration for the company’s most powerful person, companies will try to save money in any way other than cutting the payoff or firing their most responsible and expensive employee: the chief executive officer. CEO pay skyrocketed by 1,460% from 1978 to 2021, and the ratio of average-worker income to CEO pay ballooned from 20-to-1 in 1965 to 399-to-1 in 2021. And it’s not as if this staggering pay rise has made CEOs better at their jobs. Top executives abandon companies when they anticipate a recession and always treat workers as disposable, even during a hot economy. Analyses have argued that these staggering pay packages are far from justified.

When high-ranking executives make a serious blunder, they almost always get the benefit of the doubt. The modern executive lacks any actual responsibility or oversight, only occasionally resorting to typically pliant boards. They’re largely insulated from the consequences of their actions, even if they’re performing poorly. If any other kind of worker made a series of decisions that led to a double-digit drop in profitability, they’d be threatened with termination or terminated. 

The fundamental problem with corporate America is that it no longer makes sense. The CEO, the most powerful and influential person at the company, is now a figurehead who receives all the benefits of a company’s success without being endangered by its failures. Employees know this, so why should they go out of their way to help customers?

Employees will become more disengaged at work, which, in turn, will affect their brand and marketing. High-level executives are good at sucking up to the C-level suite people but love placing blame on lower-ranking workers.

By some estimates, up to 87% of employees are disengaged at work. Over half of workers are in a state of languish. The term “quiet quitting” has taken over social media, growing steam every week. And in the United States, the cost of disengagement is north of $500 billion dollars a year.

Brands that rely on customer service will have an ugly time, as my recent run-in with FedEx demonstrates. Google’s embarrassing debut of its failed AI caused the company’s stock to decline. Do you think their people care?

About richmeyer

Rich is a passionate marketer who is able to quickly understand what turns a prospect into a customer. He challenges the status quo and always asks "what can we do better"? He knows how to take analytics and turn them into opportunities and he is a great communicator.

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