Why Meta’s Latest Win Scares Me: A Lesson to Take to Heart

Feb 14, 2024 6 Min Read
employees celebrating anniversary at the workplace

Vector image is from freepik.com by @storyset.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has scared me as a mom and as a person who is deeply averse to the impact of social media on our lives. It has worried me about its scope and influence, but now it’s caught my eye for a new reason.

Along with everyone else who pays attention to business news, last week I learned that Meta Platforms experienced the largest one-day gain in Wall Street history, increasing its stock market value by a mind-boggling $196 billion.

But what has really stuck with me—and gotten under my skin—is the fact that this achievement was made possible, in part, by extensive layoffs. Meta has reduced its workforce by a staggering 22 percent since late 2022, and over 21,000 individuals have found themselves navigating the upheaval of job loss. The same radical shaving of staff has been reported across the technology sector and beyond, from Amazon to Citigroup to UPS. The trend is clear.

Layoffs can sometimes be a very smart thing, and often, they follow illogical and needless over-hiring, but there is part of their aftermath that’s going unaddressed.

It’s part of a type of work psychology that began a long time ago.

The Jack Welch Executive Playbook

Jack Welch, who ruled GE with a single-minded focus on short-term profits for two decades (1981 to 2001) and was at one time called the “manager of the century,” created a ruthless style of leadership and an elite training ground for rising executives that shaped a generation. (In the early 2000s, five of the top 30 companies on the Dow were led by alumni of GE.)

David Gelles, the New York Times reporter, former Corner Office columnist, and author of The Man Who Broke Capitalism, shed this light: “For generations, corporate profits were largely reinvested in the company or paid out to workers. That changed with the ascendance of men like Jack Welch…. Under Welch, G.E. unleashed a wave of mass layoffs and factory closures that other companies followed. The trend helped destabilisse the American middle class. Profits began flowing not back to workers in the form of higher wages, but to big investors in the form of stock buybacks.”

The Ruthless Norm We’re Up Against

You might think the brutal Welch et al. style of leadership is passé, especially if you read articles and watch TED talks about the importance of emotional intelligence, psychological safety, and the call to serve all stakeholders—not just shareholders. These people-first leaders get their share of attention—rightly. And I love working with them. But the impact of Welch is all too alive and well.

Look at leaders such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, and you will see that the financial success of the most high-powered and often most-celebrated executives (they are all men, yes?), who drive intensity and rigour in their organisations, always moves the norm for all of corporate culture. Their cash and prizes gained from pushing brutal work schedules set a new standard—a new set point—that everyone has to live up to.

These alpha men are teaching all of us how to behave, and the fact that their choices lead to increased profit validates their approach despite the human cost.

Anyone who isn’t willing to martyr themselves at the altar of this kind of all-in culture becomes potentially dispensable. There soon are just two options: Either sacrifice important elements of balance and sanity to remain at your job, or live every day on the edge of losing it.

Consider The Leftovers

The focus here is not on those who have to pack up their desks but on those who remain.

There’s a television show called The Leftovers. In this show, a seemingly normal and peaceful town goes to sleep. When it wakes up, about half the residents have vanished overnight. Their dinner plates are where they were, and their beds are as they slept in them, but they’re gone. Then, the rest of the town has to grieve and adjust, steeped in ambiguity and fear, as they deal with being left over.

For a long time, my team at the Juliet Funt Group has been talking about the corporate parallel to this show in an environment of not only layoffs but also resource cutting. People are being laid off, budgets are getting rolled back, roles are being consolidated, and an awful lot of good people are waking up feeling like they are left over as the people and resources around them shrink. They’ve had to sit and grieve, make a new plan, and figure out what to do (usually involving soldiering on).

When Zuckerberg speaks about his “year of efficiency,” he speaks about maintaining a lean organisation and using AI to fill the roles that people have previously held. Well, AI can do a lot, but I am sure the technology is not filling in every gap caused by the cuts. Leaders like the Zuckerbergs and Welches of the world believe they can squeeze extra work out of human beings by giving ten people the work of 15. And you know what? They are right. Sadly, workers have shown, over and over and over, that they have the tendency to abandon personal boundaries, time with family, and self-care to become slaves to the needs of the organisation.

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m a huge (and at times over-the-top) advocate for efficiency, but of a different kind—not the efficiency where everyone piles more work on an individual—but the kind where a mental filter is created that only lets in high-value work, and streamlined methods of getting work done are adopted. Taking low-value work off people’s plates and reducing the scope of the work pays dividends in effectiveness, profits, and culture. However, reducing the number of people while leaving the general amount of work to be the same or similar is where the problem lies.

But the more authoritarian CEOs are rewarded for the behaviour that crushes people beneath them, the harder we will have to fight against this trend.

Changing the Train Track

A note of colour: I’m writing this piece on a week where I have interacted with not one but two narcissistic male CEOs of large companies. In speaking to the people who work for them, I have been reminded that this label is not a stereotype or exaggeration but a hard-core fact that is given a wide berth in the corporate landscape.


 Is Narcissistic Leadership Killing Your Culture of Collaboration?

The Icarus Syndrome: Execs Who Fly Too Close to the Sun

As a female executive and as someone who has had very few bosses, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have your entire livelihood under the thumb of such an employer. But the more authoritarian CEOs are rewarded for the behaviour that crushes people beneath them, the harder we will have to fight against this trend.

The corporate status quo will be what we make it. It is up to us, the heart-centered leaders, the innovative consultants, and the outliers from the standard perspective, to begin to chip away at these directive norms. It will be hard to fight against the undeniable (short-term) financial gain that comes from squeezing people at work. But if we do not begin to chip away at it, we are on the train track toward an increasingly miserable experience for workers around the world. And that’s a track I don’t want to be on.

This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn

Edited by: Kiran Tuljaram

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Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO at JFG (Juliet Funt Group), which is a consulting and training firm built upon the popular teaching of CEO Juliet Funt, author of A Minute to Think.

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