Massive Google Global lay-offs — “sweet are the uses of adversity?”
Google reduces workforce by 6%
About 12000 Googlers, in the wee hours of Friday morning on 20th January, 2023, received “notifications” on their work phones. They did not get happy tidings — they were a part of the approximately 6% of the Google workforce worldwide that had been laid-off, with immediate effect. Their access to their google.com emails had been disabled and they would soon discover that their Google cards no longer worked — effectively meaning that they were no longer able to virtually or physically access the Google premises or Google intranet. This also meant, it was impossible for them to immediately know who else had been retrenched.
Sundar Pichai’s Sweetner — severance package
Google CEO, Sundar Pichai’s email was certainly not lacking in empathy. It was also available in the public domain on the Google Blog. While the sudden axe falling to surgically convert a Googler into an Xoogler would definitely not have been painless, Sundar did try his best to provide the sweetener, or balm, if you will. The severance package was much more liberal than what the US Law mandated and definitely better than that provided by Amazon, Twitter and Facebook (Metaverse). The salient features are best explained by quoting directly from the official blog:
“While this transition won’t be easy, we’re going to support employees as they look for their next opportunity.
In the US:
· We’ll pay employees during the full notification period (minimum 60 days).
· We’ll also offer a severance package starting at 16 weeks salary plus two weeks for every additional year at Google, and accelerate at least 16 weeks of GSU vesting.
· We’ll pay 2022 bonuses and remaining vacation time.
· We’ll be offering 6 months of healthcare, job placement services, and immigration support for those affected.
· Outside the US, we’ll support employees in line with local practices.”
Sundar optionally allowed the retained employees to work from home on Friday, while he promised a town-hall on the following Monday (23th January, 2023).
Aftermath of the Armageddon
Those who did not get laid-off had a mixed bag of emotions. After the initial relief that they had not been hit by the tsunami was over, the feeling of survivor syndrome or survivor’s guilt took over. As news trickled in as to who had been in retrenched, it soon became obvious that:
i. The entire exercise was a closely-guarded secret and no one below the level of Vice-President had any clue about which, if any, of their direct reports would be affected.
ii. In absence of the access to the official emails or official phones of the laid-off brethren, there was no way to connect with them and commiserate. One VP-level executive had also been relieved .
iii. It was also clear that those laid-off were not necessarily the worst performers in terms of the performance appraisal parameters, but rather picked up presumably by an Artificial Intelligence (AI)- driven algorithm, trained to identity the roles and functions that were no longer a required.
iv. The survivors generally saw — in the coming weeks and months — a scenario, where they would still be required to do the same jobs and with the same level of efficiency and effectiveness, sans the support of the personnel who had exited.
v. Many of the “survivors” at least mentally toyed with asking themselves a hypothetical question: “Would I voluntarily opt to quit, if I were given the same generous parting package?”.
Any silver lining here?
It was a few hours ago that I got the following notification on my LinkedIn account from Cameron Rout, till recently Product Manager at Google. The core message to the laid-off Googlers, internally referred to as Xooglers, is best captured by a direct quote his LinkedIn post:
“This is a pivotal moment that we get to be a part of. Over 50,000 of us just hit the market WITH SEVERANCE. At the same time, venture capital is saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars that they can’t invest in later stage companies due to economic conditions. There has probably literally never been a better time in history to do a startup.”
His message was also directed to the 38000 thousand other highly skilled IT professionals who had recently been retrenched by various IT giants. He also reached out to those who continued to remain on the rolls of Google. I had a chat with Cameron on LinkedIn and complimented him for a great positive attitude. I told him that he reminded him of the famous Shakespearean quote: “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head….” I told him that he should not hesitate to reach out if there is anything that I could do in the situation.
My son is a Googler and continues to be so
I also disclosed, at this point, that my son was a Senior Product Manager at Google (one level higher than Cameron) and had NOT been laid-off. We concluded our convo agreeing that this unexpected Armageddon would change the way every Googler as well as Xoogler looks at career and life in general and may be, as they look back — years later — at what now seems to be definitely a huge personal and professional setback, realise that it was the best thing that could have happened, for them to be able to scale greater heights elsewhere in the Universe, or Metaverse.
I would be failing in my duty if I do not turn my attention to the India-based Googlers, who may have been axed. I hope the 25-year old Google (legally Alphabet Inc.) provides its Indian employees a package at least as attractive as that offered in the USA. Legal niceties apart, it would be an excellent PR exercise and wouldn’t really add up to much in proportionate dollar terms, when compared with the cost of the US exercise.
Even as a novice, as I see the absolutely mind-boggling advances in “Artificial Intelligence” and “AI Artwork”, thanks to ChatGPT, Dream Studio, Dalle-2 and Jasper etc., in barely a matter of months, if not weeks, I am more than convinced that the world is really going to swiftly swing on a virtual hinge as regards the manner in which many traditional professions and vocations work. Dilating upon the same would require another blog post. For now, suffice it to say, we are living in interesting times, the fears of a global recession notwithstanding.
The author superannuated as Special Chief Secretary, Punjab on 31st July, 2021, after nearly 37 years of service in the IAS.
He can be reached on email@example.com