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Tech's big bad morale problem

Tech's big bad morale problem

Good morning! This Friday, there's turmoil in the tech industry, LinkedIn says bye-bye to China, and some red flags to look out for.

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The Big Story

Trouble on the homefront

The rank-and-file runs the tech industry now. If you want to boil down many of the events of the last weeks and months, one thing that unites them all is that employees at tech companies are flexing their individual and collective power more than ever. Even a vocal minority has more ways than ever to make noise and press for change. And instead of worrying about public opinion and business ramifications, bosses are increasingly worried about employee morale above all else.

Facebook is the most obvious example. The company's increasingly aggressive public stance, pushing back on whistleblower testimony and news stories, is less about changing public opinion and more about getting the team back on track.

  • Facebook has been offering employees talking points for explaining their job β€” and Facebook's role in the world β€” to friends and families. It's also holding events and sending memos internally, The New York Times reported, all meant to make people more comfortable with their employer.
  • Mark Zuckerberg's public comments have addressed employees rather than the public. "I know it's frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterized, especially for those of you who are making important contributions across safety, integrity, research and product," he wrote.
  • Even externally, Facebook's defiant stance seems calculated to give employees both a ray of hope and an argument to make to themselves and each other about why their work matters.
  • Trying to paint Frances Haugen as a villain, for instance, serves two useful internal goals: It helps Facebook counter and discount her story, and it might help dissuade others from following in her footsteps. Of course, the whole "undermine your employees" strategy doesn't always sit well with other employees.

Or take what's happening at Netflix right now. Employees have voiced issues with Dave Chappelle's new special, which includes transphobic remarks. Trans employees at Netflix are planning a walkout for next week.

  • Co-CEO Ted Sarandos responded not by defending the special or throwing Chappelle under the bus, but by trying to help employees thread a tricky needle. "Our hope is that you can be hugely inspired by entertaining the world," he wrote, "while also living with titles you strongly believe have no place on Netflix. This will not be the last title that causes some of you to wonder if you can still love Netflix. I sincerely hope that you can."
  • It has sparked at Netflix the same conversation that's happening all over the industry: What kind of company do employees want to be part of, and what do they want their company to stand for?
  • "I encourage us to state clearly that we as Netflix employees are stunning not simply when we are doing the work that our roles demand of us, but also when we challenge the very principles of our company," one of Netflix's trans employees wrote in Slack, per Bloomberg.

This kind of turmoil could be a real crisis for tech companies. The competition for tech talent is always fierce, but right now β€” when there's a ton of money flying around, a massive amount of pandemic-related upheaval, and uncertainty about every part of work and corporate culture β€” it's more intense than ever. Brain drain kills companies, and leaders know it.

  • Plus, with everyone at home and increasingly comfortable with tools like Zoom, Slack and Signal, it's so easy for employees to band together to fight for what they believe in.
  • In fairness, though, most internal conflict hasn't led to much change; anger about Joe Rogan at Spotify eventually dissipated, for instance, and Facebook has weathered scandals before. The most powerful card employees have is to quit, and historically, they haven't.

Many CEOs are increasingly convinced that the court of public opinion is a losing battle. (That's why companies like Coinbase are opting out of the conversation altogether.) But if you lose your employees, you're toast. That gives the tech industry's working class a huge amount of leverage, and they're not wasting it.

If you want to talk to us about how you feel about working in tech, or how your company operates, you can email or just reply to this email.

β€” David Pierce (email | twitter)

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People Are Talking

EU antitrust official Olivier Guersent says the EU needs address Big Tech issues more urgently:

  • "We must intervene promptly."

Vladimir Putin doesn't think crypto is reliable enough to settle oil contracts:

  • "It has a place to exist and can be used as a means of payment, of course, but trade in oil, say, or other primary materials and energy sources β€” still, it seems to me, it is a bit early to talk about this."

Prince William thinks entrepreneurs should focus more on Earth and less on space:

  • "We need some of the world's greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live."

On Protocol | Enterprise: Companies are dead set on figuring out corporate data, including Fivetran's George Fraser:

  • "We are very determined to grind on this problem in every content, every app, every database, and just cover all the bases."

Making Moves

Sophie Zhang will testify in the U.K. Parliament on Monday. Frances Haugen had previously agreed to do the same, and will talk later this month.

John Carreyrou is allowed back in the Theranos trial courtroom. The former Wall Street Journal reporter has been working on a podcast covering the trial.

Ron Watkins said he's running for Congress. The longtime 8chan administrator β€” who may or may not be the Q behind QAnon β€” said he'll run in Arizona as a Republican.

Afrooz Family is back at Apple. He left to co-found Syng, and is now reportedly back to work on making the HomePod successful.

Atlassian will reopen some offices next month. The company reopened briefly earlier this summer but changed plans as the delta variant ramped up.

Steven Shure is joining Neeva as chief business officer. Shure was Amazon Prime's first VP and last worked at AWS.

In Other News

  • On Protocol | China: LinkedIn is out of China, but its exit was long expected. In fact, the company was lucky to stick around for the seven years it did.
  • Senators are introducing a billthat would prevent platforms from favoring their own offerings, among other proposals. The bill is similar to a bipartisan measure from Rep. David Cicilline, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee in the House.
  • Amazon places its own products before others, The Markup reported. Competitors have a hard time getting high up on search results because the minute Amazon comes out with a similar product, it often gets priority.
  • Reddit is taking bets. It's launching a "predictions" feature that lets moderators and approved users in subreddits estimate the outcome of real-world events and place bets on those outcomes using virtual tokens.
  • HTC revealed the Vive Flow VR headset, which it's hoping will be used for mental well-being purposes. It doesn't seem to be as powerful as the Oculus Quest 2, but it does come with some features you can't get elsewhere.
  • Misinformation sucks, but censorship is a different story, respondents said in a new survey on social media. Adults across party lines agreed that misinformation was a problem, but they couldn't agree on whether censorship was just as bad.
  • Coinbase doesn't want the SEC to regulate crypto. The company would prefer that some other entity, like a special regulator for digital assets, do the job instead.

One More Thing

How to use the 🚩

It's time to understand the Twitter trend flooding your feed: the red flag emoji.

Let's say your friend works in the tech industry, but doesn't read Source Code every day. That's a little sus, right? You could say that's a … red flag? That's when you would use the emoji, and your tweet would look something like: "'I'm a dev and I don't read Source Code.' 🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩." Now go forth and spend the weekend putting your friends on blast with this fun little meme.


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