What do Tech Companies Owe Their Workers?
As Meta joined the tech bloodbath this week by firing more than 11,000 employees, I was reminded of a conversation during my visit to India earlier this year. I decided to skip my usual hotel and stay at the Taj, which is part of the iconic Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate. Taj solidified its position as a national luxury brand with the launch of their very first hotel in 1903.
One morning, I found myself chatting with Rajdeep Gupta, their Front Office manager who invited me to share my feedback on the stay. During our wide-ranging conversation on work, family, and Covid-19, I learned about his history with the hotel. Turns out he started in his current role just before the Indian hospitality industry was devastated by the pandemic. He described the nerve-wracking anxiety and stress as the death toll continued to rise in the world’s most populous democracy. Like many others in the hotel industry, Rajdeep had relocated from another state with his young family for the new job. He was fearful not only for his children’s safety but as other hotels around them started shutting down, he wasn’t sure he would have a job.
His employer’s response to this horrific crisis is a case study on how companies can choose to be a more humanitarian and compassionate during unprecedented times. While other competitors laid off their staff , Taj chose to retain and pay its staff during the multi-year pandemic even while the property was closed for guests. Today, the hotel is buzzing with renewed energy despite the threat of another pandemic surge looming on the horizon.
In America, billionaires doubled their wealth during the pandemic, while workers barely survived their selfish attempts to put them at risk. The American culture glorifies “work ethic” but rarely mentions reciprocity or responsibility of corporations towards their workers during times of crisis. The ultra-rich CEOs are hailed as “job creators” even as their reflexive response during a downturn is to get rid of the workers who made their immense wealth possible.
Workers have been trained to accept the hire-and-fire culture as an inevitable consequence of capitalism and the pay gap continues to widen showing that layoffs are neither inevitable nor necessary. Culling the workforce during a downturn is a deliberate choice by those who have normalized the obscene wealth inequality and symptomatic of a culture that vastly overestimates the value of a CEO while undervaluing the contributions of an average worker.
As we brace ourselves for another economic crisis, it’s time to acknowledge that workers are not disposable objects to be sacrificed at the altar of billionaire egos or discarded to satiate VC/corporate greed during bad times. A more equitable and ethical world where everyone thrives is possible but only if we stop treating workers as expendable and demand more from those benefiting the most from their hard labor.