Protocol | Workplace

Top tech candidates are anti-Facebook. It started long before the Facebook Papers.

Potential applicants felt most upset about the company's ability to censor, either believing it went too far or that it didn't do enough to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Facebook Papers: Facebook logo cracking

The company has struggled to battle a negative perception for tech candidates in comparison to its top tech competitors.

Image: Protocol

Nearly a year into the pandemic, Facebook hit a four-month spate with a 600% increase in 1-star reviews on Glassdoor in the United States. Nine former employees who gave one-star reviews were frustrated with the lack of work-life balance and what they called a "toxic culture."

In the same few months, the company saw the lowest proportion of positive sentiment online from potential tech candidates compared to competitive peers like Google, Pinterest, TikTok and Microsoft, and the second-highest proportion of negative sentiment, falling just below Uber. This moment of negative feedback landed just as the pandemic and remote work seemed like they would trap everyone endlessly behind their computers, keeping software engineers tied to their laptops late into the night. That same quarter, Facebook also found that nearly 50% of its software engineering candidates rejected job offers, prompting a memo titled "Why is recruiting so hard right now."

Facebook's summary of its negative former employee reviews and how potential tech candidates perceive the company appeared in a report titled "Q1 2021 Global External Partnerships QBR Summaries," included as part of disclosures made to the SEC and provided to Congress in redacted form by Frances Haugen's legal counsel. A consortium of news organizations, including Protocol, has reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress.

A spokesperson from Meta (the parent company name for Facebook) told Protocol that the report "was a standard update provided to an individual team. Feedback among teams is a core part of our culture and it helps us learn where we're doing well or where we need to improve. We continue to review the most effective way to engage and attract talent."

Tech companies have struggled mightily for talent amid a tightening labor market. While Facebook has reputational issues that contribute to candidate hesitation, a wide range of companies, newly flush with cash from VCs and IPOs, have grown more willing to pay top dollar for candidates. The fight for employees has likely been made worse by the design of tech recruiting systems, which often exclude talented individuals who have less traditional resumes, education or backgrounds. Google's reputation for an especially brutal interview process and the fact that resume-reviewers tend to favor certain companies and schools are just two examples of the multi-faceted problem.

The QBR Summaries report details how Facebook held staff meetings with Glassdoor, Brandwatch, LinkedIn and other partners. According to the memo, Facebook spent $115,313 paying to advertise jobs during the quarter, at an average cost of $7.75 per application. The memo also explains that in the first few months of 2021 Facebook struggled to attract qualified tech candidates in comparison to its competitors (Microsoft, Google, TikTok, Pinterest, Amazon and Airbnb are among the competitors listed in the report's charts). Still, the report shows that Facebook's overall reception from current employees and potential candidates was generally positive when compared to the hiring field as a whole. The company landed at #11 on the Glassdoor Best Places to Work list in 2021, up more than 10 spots from 2020.

"Facebook is pacing behind peers from the 2021 best places to work list in the US and we are behind our goal of increasing our rating 0.1 YoY," an unnamed Facebook employee wrote in the QBR Summaries memo. "The recent increase in 1-star reviews was enough to pull our overall on-site global rating down from 4.4 to 4.3 in March." When the Glassdoor list came out later in 2021, the rating remained unchanged from 2020 at 4.4 stars, indicating that reviews recovered after the first quarter.

While Glassdoor ratings for "comp and benefits" remained extremely high for the company, the ratings for "work-life balance," already low at 3.68 in January 2021 compared to every other category, dropped to 3.32 in March, according to a ratings chart included in the report.

Data from Brandwatch — which scans external media for mentions of Facebook — revealed that Facebook employees are positive about their talented peers and compensation and feel most negatively about work-life balance, management and the regular frequency of performance reviews, according to the memo. Negativity for potential applicants was driven by news about current events, mainly Facebook's handling of misinformation. The trend of employee frustration with work-life balance wasn't isolated to Facebook but instead applied to companies across the board, according to the data.

The report also delves into how candidates and employees feel about competitors: Microsoft had the most positive employee social sentiment, at 51%, while TikTok had the most negative (34%). Facebook had the lowest proportion of positive sentiment (14%) amongst its peers for potential tech candidates (while TikTok had the highest, at 26%) and the second-highest proportion of negative sentiment, falling at 34% just below Uber's 35%. Pinterest had the lowest proportion of negative sentiment, at 17%, and the second-highest proportion of positive sentiment, tied with Microsoft at 25%.

"Facebook candidate conversation fluctuated with current events," the report's author wrote. Potential applicants were far more negative about the company than actual employees, and most felt upset with the company's ability to censor, either believing it went too far or that the company didn't do enough to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Candidates also indicated an interest in understanding how Facebook was making progress on diversity goals, while employees recognized the efforts around diversity and inclusion but also found it to be sometimes disingenuous. The report's authors wrote that Facebook needs to solicit employee feedback to find "what feels unnatural," as well as "strive to create conditions that improve inclusion on a daily basis."

The analysis in the report also showed areas where other competitors are performing especially strongly with their employees. For Microsoft, those areas were work-life balance and mentorship opportunities, while at Amazon workers were most excited about potential for growth at the companies.

This story was updated on Nov. 10, 2021 with a comment from a Meta company spokesperson.

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Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This story contains mention of sexual assault.

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