Staff solidarity | Google workers walk out and offer to take pay cuts amid layoffs

Google workers walk out and offer to take pay cuts amid layoffs

Hundreds of employees at Google’s Zurich office staged a walkout in response to another influx of layoffs in Big Tech. The workers, who are a part of the IT union Syndicom, walked out after 200 employees were laid off.

There have been mass layoffs across the tech sector in recent months, with over 120,000 workers losing their jobs at some of the world’s largest tech companies including Meta, Netflix, Amazon, and Google’s parent company Alphabet.

Reasons for the layoffs are varied, but many attribute the cuts to increased economic strain and the necessity to let go of resources once needed during the pandemic tech boom.

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Syndicom is demanding, on behalf of its members, that Google provides an adequate social plan for dismissed employees in the wake of unavoidable redundancies. The Swiss IT union has pointed to the fact that many of Google Zurich’s workers are non-EU nationals whose right to live in the country would run out once laid off.

As part of negotiations, all of which were rejected, 2500 Google employees offered to reduce their own wages or working hours to save the company money and their colleagues' jobs, highlighting the wider trend of worker’s solidarity and ‘survivor’s guilt’.

Employee happiness isn’t just about a good salary

It takes years of hard work for employees to achieve their desired wage, so it may be surprising that workers are offering to cut their own salaries, especially in a cost-of-living crisis, for the sake of co-workers keeping their jobs.

But this phenomenon, whereby an employee feels guilty that they survived layoffs, has been coined ‘layoff survivor guilt’. In a study from BizReport to understand the impact of layoffs on employees, it was found that ‘surviving’ workers often experience feelings of discontent and a lack of motivation and morale.

Centerstone, a non-profit organisation providing support for mental health and substance misuse disorders, explains: “While the name implies this to be a response to the loss of life, it could also be the loss of property, health, identity or a number of other things that are important to people.”

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The report also suggests that kept workers are typically tasked with taking on the responsibilities of those who were let go, leading to them feeling overworked, while one-third of survey participants believe that their company will worsen because of layoffs.

This could point to another reason why employees are willing to have a pay decrease, so as not to take on a larger, and potentially unrealistic, workload or stay in a company with a comprised culture.

Ultimately, the willingness of employees to sacrifice their own ‘success’ for the sake of saving co-workers indicates a shift in what workers find valuable in a workplace. More than ever, employees look to fellow employees, good work-life balance, and flexibility as reasons for their happiness and sense of belonging at work. Whilst salary becomes less important.

Today, workers have an emotional connection to their workplace, meaning that in the event of their work life being disrupted, their sense of belonging at a company becomes compromised. Which may be a factor in the willingness of Google workers to sacrifice their salaries to maintain the status quo.

An employee’s emotional connection to their workplace can also lead to them standing in solidarity with co-workers as a moral obligation. This has been seen most recently in the event of BBC reporters and pundits refusing to work, after Gary Lineker was taken off air for criticising the Government’s asylum policies. 

In a paper entitled Solidarity at Work: Concepts, Levels and Challenges, Glenn Morgan and Valeria Pulignano explain that solidarity amongst workers can indicate a positive work environment. They explain: “Solidarity is a form of identification and as such is both inclusive and exclusionary. Solidarity depends on a definition of ‘us’ distinct from them.

“The ‘us’ can be an occupational group, a factory location, a religious or national identity, etc., distinguished from ‘them’. ‘Them’ in relation to work might be employers or other workers who may take ‘our’ jobs. Forms of solidarity reflect what Putnam (2001) has called the ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ elements of social capital. ‘Bonding’ elements in social capital emphasise similarity within the group and the strength that this gives the group to act together.”

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