AT HubSpot, the software company where I worked for almost two years, when you got fired, it was called “graduation.” We all would get a cheery email from the boss saying, “Team, just letting you know that X has graduated and we’re all excited to see how she uses her superpowers in her next big adventure.” One day this happened to a friend of mine. She was 35, had been with the company for four years, and was told without explanation by her 28-year-old manager that she had two weeks to get out. On her last day, that manager organized a farewell party for her.
It was surreal, and cruel, but everyone at HubSpot acted as if this were perfectly normal. We were told we were “rock stars” who were “inspiring people” and “changing the world,” but in truth we were disposable.
Many tech companies are proud of this kind of culture. Amazon keeps getting called out for its bruising environment, most notably in a long exposé in this newspaper last year. On Tuesday, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said that people who didn’t like the company’s grueling environment were free to work elsewhere. “We never claim that our approach is the right one — just that it’s ours — and over the last two decades, we’ve assembled a group of like-minded people,” he wrote in a letter to shareholders.
Some viewed the statement as a sign that Mr. Bezos at least seems to recognize that it’s not normal for employees to cry at their desks. But it was also a defiant message that he had no intention of letting up.
I am old enough to remember the 1980s and early ’90s, when technology executives were obsessed with retaining talent. “Our most important asset walks out the door every night,” was the cliché of the day. No longer.