Workers at Facebook’s parent have been increasingly alarmed by job cuts and the company’s direction.

An illustration of a crumbling corporate symbol.
Credit…Annelise Capossela

Sheera FrenkelMike Isaac

“Raise your hand if you know who is getting fired?” a Meta employee wrote in an online chat group for the company’s engineers this month. “Fire emoji if you think it’s a dumpster fire.”

In response, his colleagues posted dozens of tiny flame emojis.

“I’m already fired,” added a former Meta employee who worked in the company’s business division for nearly four years before most of his team was laid off this year. “But who can keep track?”

Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, has declared that 2023 will be the “year of efficiency” at his company. So far, efficiency has translated into mass layoffs. He has conducted two rounds of cuts over the past six months, with two more to come; these will eliminate more than 21,000 people. Mr. Zuckerberg is also closing 5,000 open positions, which amounts to 30 percent of his company’s work force.

At the same time, some of Meta’s top executives have moved away and are managing large parts of the Silicon Valley company from their new homes in places like London and Tel Aviv.

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Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, has declared 2023 the “year of efficiency.” Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

The layoffs and absentee leadership, along with concerns that Mr. Zuckerberg is making a bad bet on the future, have devastated employee morale at Meta, according to nine current and former employees, as well as messages reviewed by The New York Times.

Employees at Meta, which not long ago was one of the most desirable workplaces in Silicon Valley, face an increasingly precarious future. The company’s stock price has dropped 43 percent from its peak 19 months ago. More layoffs, Mr. Zuckerberg has said on his Facebook page, are coming this month. Some of those cuts could be in engineering groups, which would have been unthinkable before the trouble started last year, two employees said.

“So many of the employees feel like they’re in limbo right now,” said Erin Sumner, a global director of human resources at DeleteMe, who was laid off from Facebook in November. “They’re saying it’s ‘Hunger Games’ meets ‘Lord of the Flies,’ where everyone is trying to prove their worth to management.”

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is not the only big tech company that has hit the brakes on spending. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and others have laid off thousands of workers in recent months, shed office space, dropped perks and pulled back from experimental initiatives.

But Meta appears to face the most challenges. Last year, the company reported consecutive quarters of declining revenue — a first since it became a public company in 2012.

After a pandemic hiring spree, several tech companies are now pulling back.

  • A Growing List: Amazon, AlphabetMicrosoft, Zoom and Meta are among the tech giants that have cut jobs amid concerns about an economic slowdown.
  • Salesforce: The company said it would lay off 10 percent of its staff, a decision that seemed to go against the professed commitment of its co-founder and chief executive, Marc Benioff, to its workers.
  • New Parents Hit Hard: At tech companies that spent recent years expanding paid parental leave, parents have felt the whiplash of mass layoffs in an especially visceral way.
  • Tech’s Generational Divide: The recent cuts have been eye-opening to young workers. But to older employees who experienced the dot-com bust, it has hardly been a shock.

While Meta’s peers are chasing a wave of innovation in artificial intelligence, Mr. Zuckerberg has made a big bet on the metaverse, an immersive online world. But it is unclear if consumers will embrace his vision in the way he hopes. While the company has sold 20 million virtual reality headsets — more than any other company producing similar tech — it has struggled to keep customers returning regularly to use the product.

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While Meta has sold 20 million virtual reality headsets — more than any other company producing similar tech — it has struggled to keep customers engaged.Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Many workers at Meta had already been skeptical of Mr. Zuckerberg’s shift toward the metaverse. Those concerns have grown as consumer enthusiasm for the virtual world has lagged, the employees said.

The absence of many top executives from Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., is compounding worries. Mr. Zuckerberg, 38, is on parental leave after the birth of his third child, three Meta employees said, but is regularly meeting with executives on important topics. (A.I. is at the top of that list.)

Even though Mr. Zuckerberg has encouraged rank-and-file employees to return to the company’s headquarters, several of his top lieutenants have moved away.

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Meta’s head of product, Naomi Gleit, recently moved to New York. Several of Meta’s top lieutenants have moved away from its Silicon Valley headquarters.Credit…Patricia De Melo Moreira/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Naomi Gleit, one of Meta’s first employees and now head of product, recently moved to New York, joining three other senior Meta managers and executives based there. Guy Rosen, Meta’s chief information security officer, moved back to Tel Aviv, where he lived when his company, Onavo, was acquired. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, is living in London. And Javier Olivan, Meta’s chief operating officer, is splitting his time between Europe and Silicon Valley.

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Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, is living in London. Credit…Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times

While the executives have been joining Meta’s weekly meetings through video chats, their absence from the Menlo Park offices has been felt, employees said, especially since Mr. Zuckerberg recently stressed that he expected employees to return to the office.

A spokesman for Meta said its executives continued to travel regularly to the Silicon Valley offices.

Within Meta, there is pressure to demonstrate that people are working hard, two employees said. Intense scrutiny has come in recent workplace reviews. Workers, especially in middle management, are being asked to justify why their jobs are crucial to Meta’s goals.

Some employees are trying to make themselves look busier, two people said. That has made people more possessive about their work, the people said, which has meant less collaborating with co-workers. One person described the atmosphere as “cutthroat.”

Meta declined to comment on internal matters.

While the first two rounds of layoffs largely affected business and recruiting teams, the cuts expected this month will focus on tech departments, including engineers, which has surprised employees, said four employees, who were not authorized to speak to reporters. Insiders expect engineering cuts to hit teams inside WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, they said.

In one of his regular question-and-answer sessions with employees this year, Mr. Zuckerberg said that there was no “perfect way to do” layoffs, and that he wanted to err on the side of providing more information about upcoming layoffs as news of the cuts began to leak to the press. The Information previously reported on the meeting.

Meta employees have created memes and inside jokes about how much time workers have left. In messaging groups and workplace chats in recent weeks, they have been using skull-and-bones emojis to signal to one another that they may be part of the layoffs, according to screenshots seen by The Times.

Those remaining have griped about reduced bonuses and perks. One engineer created a bot that would automatically calculate the loss in the value of Meta stock held by employees, part of their compensation package.

The cutbacks include trimming Meta’s real estate. The company has terminated leases for offices across the Bay Area, including space in San Francisco, Fremont, Sunnyvale and Menlo Park, according to two people familiar with the cuts. In February, the company announced that it would pay to end leases early and cut Meta’s real estate contracts in some areas.

The company is also cutting back on some of its lavish perks, once considered necessary to attract top talent. Last year, Meta ended its free laundry service for employees and pushed dinner service later into the evening — a way to cut down on workers’ loading up free food to take home.

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Mr. Zuckerberg has encouraged employees to return to the company’s elaborate Silicon Valley offices.Credit…Aaron Wojack for The New York Times

Workers complained in internal chat rooms that the company was cutting back on amenities. One was frustrated that there was no more cereal in the worker’s office, and that snacks in “micro-kitchens” were not being restocked as regularly. Many believed that cafeteria options had gone downhill.

Employee travel expenses are also being scrutinized more closely, and workers have been asked to cut down on nonessential travel.

At WhatsApp, Meta’s popular messaging product, insiders are anticipating fewer cuts and structural changes on the business side than in the rest of the company, two current employees said. Mr. Zuckerberg wants to increase the cadence of delivering new, revenue-generating features in WhatsApp, which he bought nine years ago for $19 billion.

While employees complain they aren’t hearing enough from Mr. Zuckerberg, he still surprised some this year when he dropped into a discussion group for Metamates, the name given to employees.

Workers were gossiping about a recent news article that noted Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s return to Google to assist with the company’s artificial intelligence strategy, two employees who witnessed the exchange said. One worker joked how the founders’ return might inspire Mr. Zuckerberg to get back to coding at Facebook.

Later, Mr. Zuckerberg replied to the employees, who didn’t know he was lurking in the discussion.

“I never left,” he wrote.

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