One of the more uncomfortable truths about corporate America is that it has become over bloated with managers who don’t do all that much.
These people go to meetings. They sit in meetings. They say what other people are doing. Occasionally, they “put out a fire.” And for this job, they make good money. The setup, which exists throughout almost all sectors of the economy, from media to tech to car sales, is not the fault of any one manager. Presumably, a lot of these people were at one time good at something that was not managing, which is why they were awarded with a higher-paying job in which they no longer do the thing they were good at in the first place and instead go to a lot of meetings.
Do you have a tip about Meta or another tech company? We want to hear from you. From a non-work device, contact our reporter at email@example.com or via Signal at 310-614-3752 for extra security.
The problem is that this exact pattern has happened so often that there are now far too many bosses in America, and not enough people making and doing things of value. One analysis out of Harvard Business School in 2016 put a number on the cost of this “excess management”: $3 trillion. According to that same analysis, there is now one manager for every 4.7 workers. Put another way, managers and administrators at that time made up 17.6 percent of the workforce while earning almost a third of all compensation.
Decades of demonization of the stereotype of government bureaucrats who do nothing long masked the growing issue of corporate bureaucrats who do nothing. Then the pandemic taught millions of people to work from home, and the professional meeting-goers were left with either fewer meetings or hours on end of sitting on Zoom while mostly muted. Ed Zitron has written about this collective ass-showing at length and predicted in 2021 that the WFH revolution would place managers in the uncomfortable position of having to prove their worth.
“In order to survive, managers … will need to start proving that they actually do something,” Zitron wrote in The Atlantic that year. “What makes this shift all the more complicated is that many 21st-century, white-collar employees don’t necessarily need a hands-on manager to make sure they get their work done.” Good managers will be able to do this easily; these are the people who improve the quality of work among the people they oversee. It is the bad managers that are in trouble.
It is possible we are starting to see the ax falling on the management class, at Meta of all places. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the social media (and now, bizarrely, metaverse) company is undergoing a process that is being referred to internally as the “flattening,” in which managers will be asked to do things besides go to meetings and put out fires or leave the company. The technical term here is that they are being asked to become individual contributors, which involves focusing on “tasks like coding, designing, and research.”
That is to say: Meta is taking on a bloated management structure that it has realized is not terribly efficient or effective, one developed through years of promotions during the easy-money era. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called this the “Year of Efficiency.” The question is whether this is whether the flattering will extend beyond the company’s own walls—out into the broader structure of corporate America.