A plea to Facebook: I’m worried about my friends’ mental health
In the past two weeks, I’ve had five conversations with my friends. They are all Facebook employees, where I worked for three years. Covid-19 has reminded me to appreciate the people in my life, so I’ve been talking to my friends and families more these days. When I called my friends, I thought it was a general catch-up on a random day in July. I had forgotten that July is never just a random time for Facebookers.
It’s the time for PSC — performance summary cycle. It’s a biannual 360 performance review in which you write down all the things you’ve done in the past 6 months, and ask your peers to write about you. Your manager then will represent you in a process called calibration, where what you’ve achieved is compared with 100+ other people at the same level.
Does it sound like a normal performance review process so far?
The thing is, PSC doesn’t just happen in January and July. It’s at the front of your mind all the time. Projects at Facebook — at least in my old team — are driven bottom-up, not top-down. You identify the problem yourself and you initiate the project to solve it. You know that towards the end of the half you’ll have to boast about this.
You end up choosing the sexiest projects, give it a catchy name, shout about it on an internal Facebook tool (Workplace), write a note, and wait for that likes notification to flood. That project might not be the best solution for the problem. It might not what Facebook users need. But it brings you the ‘exceeds expectations’ rating at the end of the half.
Likes and comments are the social currency to measure your performance. It’s very common for your manager to give this feedback on your PSC: “You need to post more.”
If as a regular user you think Facebook or Instagram is bad for your mental health, think about how bad it is when it’s used to determine your rating and your promotion.
Add to the equation that the people at Facebook are young, smart, and ambitious. Now I believe that the worst thing you can do to people like that is putting them in the same arena with hundreds of other people who are as brilliant, and asking them to compete for a rating. It’s bloody Hunger Games.
You kill yourself to perform, and on top of that, you’ve got to strategically promote what you’ve achieved through your posts, notes, and even videos, and hundreds of people are doing the exact same thing.
Internal Facebook Workplace tool is a place where everybody shouts and nobody listens.
Your managers are supposed to own this promotion piece. “You do your job well,” they said, “and I’ll make sure you get recognised fairly.” But your managers are in the same hamster wheel. They’re competing with 50 other managers to earn recognition. The toxic culture is bubbling all the way up.
I’ve been there, done that. I’ve scored one ‘redefines expectations’, three ‘greatly exceeds expectations’, and one ‘exceeds expectations’. Scoring those ratings made me happy for like a week before I got sucked into another whirl. Another cycle. Another round of self-doubt, envy, and anxiety.
I decided to jump off the hamster wheel just before my sixth performance review. I moved to a company where my only job is to solve problems, not shout about what I’ve solved.
But my friends are still there. We mostly started around the same time. Wide-eyed, optimistic, thirsty to change the world. It’s heartbreaking to witness what 3–4 years at Facebook have done to them. They’ve started seeking professional help. Provided by Facebook for free, of course.
That’s the thing with Facebook. They give you all the benefits you can think of. They make you forget how to live without them. They make you forget there’s another life out there, a life where your self-worth is not determined by the number of likes you’ve got.
I’m not proposing a solution or an alternative. I’m only pleading for Facebook leadership to take a look into the damage PSC brings to your people. Years ago, somebody asked Sheryl about PSC, and her answer was (not the exact quote because this was just based on my memory), “The way we do PSC is like what Churchill said about democracy — it’s not perfect but it’s still better than the other alternatives.”
I’m not sure it’s true anymore. There must be another way to recognise performance that doesn’t cost your employees’ mental health. I’m sure you can figure it out — you’ve got the most brilliant people after all.