Meta Employee Morale Is Low. Mark Zuckerberg Is Touting AI To Fix That.

Meta is betting that more job security and innovations in artificial intelligence will boost the internal mood as well as the company's bottom line.

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SAN FRANCISCO - Nearly two months after Meta slashed thousands of jobs on the company's technical teams, workers are still grappling with the consequences.

Employees who support the Facebook core app on everything from groups to messaging have spent weeks divvying up the responsibilities their departed colleagues left behind, according to four current and former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Many remaining employees are getting used to new managers, learning completely new roles and - in some cases - just trying to figure out what's going on.

Meanwhile, the cuts - which now tally more than 21,000 total - continue to hurt morale, the current and former employees say. Even before the final layoffs at the end of May, an employee survey conducted by the company found that just 26 percent of employee respondents expressed confidence in leadership - a five percentage point drop from October 2022, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal matters.

And 43 percent of responsive employees said they felt valued - a 15 percentage point drop.

On Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a companywide meeting where he touted the company's upcoming product road map. He and other executives also talked about the company's innovations in artificial intelligence, including a suite of new tools workers can start experimenting with now.

"We're going to play an important and unique role in the industry in bringing these capabilities to billions of people in new ways that other people aren't going to do," Zuckerberg said, according to a copy of his remarks shared with The Washington Post.

Meta didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meta is part of a wider trend of companies in Silicon Valley that went through a hiring boom and have lately been struggling to find their footing amid tough economic conditions. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others have also laid off tens of thousands of people.

Zuckerberg - the lone founder still at the helm of Big Tech - faces the daunting additional task of trying to transform his company and its mission. In 2021, he announced he was renaming it from Facebook to Meta, signaling the company's all-in bet on the "metaverse," an immersive version of the internet.

But he also now must turn the social media giant into a more streamlined and less bureaucratic tech company, while attempting to restore and even boost his employees' faith in the company's future and culture. Zuckerberg has said he wants the workplace to become "scrappier" as it unwinds a management culture that was used to easy money and hyper workforce growth.

"More work has to be done by fewer people, so people get busy," said Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts University's Fletcher School.

So far, Wall Street has rewarded Zuckerberg for the belt-tightening at Meta. The company's stock is up more than 100 percent since the start of the year.

During the layoff process, senior leaders were asked to reimagine the organizational charts of their various divisions by prioritizing which roles, products and projects were necessary for the company's future and which could be cut or changed. In the wake of the cuts, Meta pleaded for employees to have patience as their new managers got up to speed.

Some internal systems and priorities that were once clear have become more confusing because nearly a quarter of the company's workforce is gone, employees said.

One employee, in an operations-focused role, said their team has struggled to understand a revised scope of duties following cuts in the division. When they seek more clarity from leaders, they are often given vague answers.

"We mainly don't know what we're supposed to do or why we exist anymore," the worker said.

The confusion over job duties and team roles has prompted some employees to worry about how they will be able to demonstrate their value before the company's upcoming midyear performance reviews, two of the people said.

There are signs that Meta's new management culture is already starting to take shape. Meta recently told workers that they would have to start going into the office for at least three days a week, though that guidance doesn't apply to existing remote workers. Zuckerberg has argued that if more people work from the office it could improve performance and boost morale.

Some employees have also grown excited about a perceived shift in priorities. After years of focus on the metaverse, company executives have been talking more about artificial intelligence in recent messaging - part of the hot trend engulfing the tech world. Zuckerberg has said the company maintains its commitment to both the metaverse and artificial intelligence.

At the Thursday meeting, Zuckerberg and other executives spoke about the company's ambitions to become a serious player in AI by including some innovations in its social media networks, according to one of the employees.

Meta plans to unveil AI-powered stickers that can be posted in messages, adding visual commentary to the conversation. A new AI photo-generation tool will be able to transform users' photos via a text prompt.

The company is also going to start letting employees experiment with conversational artificial intelligence agents - based on its large language model, LLaMA - that are similar to ChatGPT. And Meta employees will also be able to try out an internal productivity assistant that could help them with everything from writing code to reminding them about the company's shuttle service times.

Zuckerberg did also talk about the company's Quest virtual reality-powered headset, a key piece of hardware the company hopes will make its metaverse ambitions reality and expand its user base. The company's most advanced VR headset retails at about $1,000.

He said Apple, which entered the race this week with a debut of its Vision Pro goggles for a price tag of $3,500, won't be competition.

--Naomi Nix, The Washington Post

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