March 13, 2019

Alpesh: Lost In The System

This story comes from Alpesh, a former contingent worker at Facebook. Their name, the names of others mentioned, and a few details have been changed or obscured to protect their privacy.

My career is everything to me. It makes me feel significant and important. I have worked in my industry for over a decade. Since 2016, I really wanted to work at Facebook and I had been applying to full-time roles there for a year and a half. Eventually, this staffing agency reached out to me about a role in *************. I told them that with ten years of experience in *************, I felt that the role was a bit too junior for me. However, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to work at Facebook. I was excited! I felt that as a consultant, I could at least show that I’m worth taking on as a full-time employee. I agreed to have the agency set me up with a phone interview with the hiring team.

I got on the phone with Adam, a full-time employee with Facebook, who started the interview with, “I don’t know what job requisition you saw. I didn’t write it, and I don’t know what job you’ll be having.” That was odd, but the rest of the interview went great. We connected easily through open communication about the road blocks their team was facing and I shared my experience on how I overcame those types of challenges and then they asked the staffing agency to bring me over for an onsite interview.

I paid for my flight from the East coast and for my hotel stay, which was expensive, but I judged it as a worthwhile investment. [Ed. FB interviewees for most full-time roles in engineering, product management, etc. are compensated for all their interview-related travel expenses.]  I got on a plane, did the onsite interview, and it went great. The Facebook campus made me feel so alive and excited to get started working there! After a follow-up interview, I got the job! The staffing agency offered me an hourly compensation rate which was significantly lower than I’m used to, with no benefits or perks. Over the phone, they said it’s a “contract-to-hire” position for 10 months. That meant I’d be converted to a full-time FB employee if my work was good, so I accepted it. Much later when I had already started on the job, I found out that staffing agencies are not supposed to say “contract-to-hire” or offer the possibility of conversion to full-time as the policy doesn’t officially exist.

Once I accepted the offer, I had to find an apartment and a car. I was going to pack up and move across the country! I asked for a relocation bonus or some sort of relocation assistance, but the agency said they don’t provide it. I managed to find an apartment and make the move in time. The agency told me I’d start on the 10th, but they didn’t give me any reporting details: where to go, who to contact for onboarding, all that. After a number of “can I get an update” emails that went unanswered, they finally told me my new start date was the 24th. That was two unpaid weeks during which I paid rent in my new California apartment. Interviewing and moving out here put me in debt!

When I started on the job, I loved everything about the company! That energy was so pervasive. I loved the culture too, and I still do. Walking around talking to people, learning about the culture and realizing sky’s the limit was so fascinating and I finally felt like I was where I was meant to be: a place that supported my dreams to do things bigger than myself, bigger than the company, things that impacted the world. I felt like they would support me wanting to succeed at Facebook and contribute in a meaningful way...

But a surprise was waiting for me. I logged in to the timecard system where I saw that my end date had been recorded as 3 months from my start. The agency had told me that I was getting a 10 month position, and I had moved my whole life across the country for this! I also had to struggle with issues getting health insurance and overtime pay. My staffing agency became unresponsive since the day I signed the offer, which should have been another warning sign. I had to escalate to PRO Unlimited, the firm that manages FB’s contingent workers, to coordinate a conversation between me and my staffing agency.

Adam, the person who hired me, told me that I wouldn’t have an FBAM. [Ed. An FBAM (Facebook Acting Manager) is a Facebook employee who interfaces with contingent workers, somewhat like how a manager is for a Facebook FTE.] This is the person who previously told me they didn’t know what my role was going to be. They told me to “be prepared for ambiguity.”

Adam moved me into a new group under him led by Bert, the person I was supposed to report to. He had just returned from paternity leave and was working only 3 days a week. The first thing they said when we met was “I don’t like people”. That made it very difficult for me to ask for anything. I tried to have meetings with them, but they would decline. They wouldn’t answer my requests for information, either ignoring me or telling me they didn’t have time. I went back to Adam a few times, and each time they said “Don’t ask questions. Try to find the answers on your own.” I tried to say that I wasn’t getting anywhere, not having any impact or being effective. They said they would talk to Bert but nothing ever came of that.

In any job, I want to be successful and have high impact. I wanted to do great things at Facebook, but I needed a little assistance getting started as it was such a different environment and they didn’t even introduce me to people or tell me what to work on. I’m used to being hired as the expert by a company where everyone knows my role and wants me to succeed and help the company. Here, it was different. There were so many projects underway with little coordination. I was told to come in, figure things out, and persuade people to my way of thinking. But I was supporting people who didn’t know what they wanted, and I got no feedback or help from them. I guess Facebook was very afraid to appear like this was a co-employment situation, like they were managing my performance. I didn’t know whether I was doing anything worthwhile at all. Often, I thought, “You hired me! Let me do something!” I guess Facebook has a lot of money and doesn’t mind throwing some of it away.

Throughout my time there, I kept looking for mentorship, for someone who would be compassionate about my situation. I contacted a prolific senior woman in tech, but she brushed me off with “I have never worked with contingent workers, I wouldn’t know how to advise you.”

I was constantly under so much stress. I developed a number of health issues and ended up having to be hospitalized. It was not fun. I didn’t get any health insurance until two weeks before the end of my contract. At work, I tried to be very direct in telling Adam and Bert that my contract was ending soon. I said things like, “You are telling me to wait until this date, but you don’t seem to be renewing my contract, which ends before that date.” Eventually, they told me my contract was ending and they weren’t renewing it.

Facebook as a company wants to do good, but there are so many contingent workers who are suffering there. In order for the company to do good by them, everyone working there needs to be held accountable. I had the impression that the people who work with contingent workers are nervous and afraid of doing anything that would get the company in a co-employment lawsuit. People are scared if you are too open; sometimes FTEs would tell me “It's so hard to hire someone for this role” and I'd say “I'm right here! I want to work with you!”, but interest would die down. I felt that the staffing agencies and the vendor management companies who hire and manage contingent workers were not held to uniform standards. I felt like nobody at Facebook really has the authority to say, “You can't hire a contingent worker for that role, it should be a full-time role.” Any team with the budget can send a job requisition out to the staffing agencies; there's no approval or oversight because Facebook is a flat organization.

Mark Zuckerberg says “It's not my company, it's yours,” and they hand out a sticker to everyone on their first day that says “This is your company now,” but it really is his company. I'd like to ask him what he thinks is going on deep inside his company, what's going on with the people who work there. People like me who get lost in the system. Facebook is losing a lot of money by not directly managing the performance of a large and growing portion of its workforce; instead, it’s overpaying middleman companies for shoddy work. In the long run, Facebook's reputation will get hit, and nobody wants that. Unrest will grow and something like the Google Walkout will happen.

Contingent workers don’t speak up because they are afraid of losing their jobs at this wonderful company. Many have supervisors and employers who tell them (with no record) to keep their heads down and focus on work, effectively silencing the workers. By following the “Move Fast” model, Facebook has created a complex combination of issues for its still-growing contingent workforce. I know Facebook has the capacity to do better, but they have to be bold, be open, and discard their fear of their contingent workforce. They have to change the language and communications they are feeding full time employees which is a language of fear and isolation.

Facebook’s culture statement says “Our global teams are constantly iterating, solving problems, and working together to empower people around the world to build community and connect in meaningful ways.” … I was part of that global, and it was not working together… it was isolating me and so many other Contingent workers like me. Facebook can do better to build community within its own doors just like its mission to build community outside of them.