Tech Layoffs Keep Coming. Why Is Head Count Barely Budging?

Microsoft, Alphabet and Netflix each employed 50% more people than before the pandemic, year-end disclosures show. Not far behind is Meta Platforms, and Amazon.com has nearly doubled its workforce since 2019, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. (MINT_PRINT)
Microsoft, Alphabet and Netflix each employed 50% more people than before the pandemic, year-end disclosures show. Not far behind is Meta Platforms, and Amazon.com has nearly doubled its workforce since 2019, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. (MINT_PRINT)

Summary

Microsoft, Meta Platforms and Amazon are among the companies dwarfing their old selves, despite announcing hefty job cuts.

Never mind the layoffs: Some of the biggest U.S. tech companies have swelled their ranks much more than they have trimmed them.

Microsoft, Alphabet and Netflix each employed 50% more people than before the pandemic, year-end disclosures show. Not far behind is Meta Platforms, and Amazon.com has nearly doubled its workforce since 2019, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows.

Since late 2022, these companies have said they would cut more than 70,000 jobs combined. Continued hiring, acquisitions and past recruiting binges have more than offset the recent wave of reductions.

Consider Microsoft. In January, the software giant said it would cut 1,900 jobs in its videogame unit, after promising to shed some 11,370 in three layoff announcements last year.

Job cuts announced in January targeted employees of Activision Blizzard, which employed about 13,000 people before it was acquired by Microsoft in October. Activision employees weren’t reflected in Microsoft’s most recently disclosed employment figures.

Most of Microsoft’s head-count growth appears to have come outside the U.S., where 101,000 people worked for the company at its fiscal year-end, up more than 70% from 2019. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company’s securities filings.

A similar hiring boom occurred at Alphabet. Google’s parent company employed 182,502 people at the end of last year, up more than 63,000 from 2019.

That increase includes Alphabet’s employment levels falling about 8,000 last year. Since early 2023, Alphabet has said it would cut more than 12,000 jobs at Google and other business lines.

An Alphabet spokeswoman said the company is seeking to simplify its structure to become more efficient and focus resources on its biggest product categories.

Apple’s workforce fell slightly during its fiscal year ended in September to about 161,000 people. That figure was up about 24,000 from four years earlier. Apple has largely avoided the high-profile layoffs that other big tech companies have announced. This week it scrapped plans to build an electric car, a move that would shift some jobs but could result in layoffs.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, slashed its workforce last year by about 22%, or 19,000. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg trumpeted plans for a “year of efficiency" in March last year, when the company said it would cut 10,000 jobs, following the announcement of 11,000 job cuts in November 2022.

The company still had about 50% more employees at the end of 2023 than at the end of 2019. A Meta spokesman declined to comment.

The biggest job gains have occurred at Amazon, which has added 727,000 employees since 2019. It has roughly doubled its workforce over that span, despite announcing it would cut some 27,000 jobs in 2023.

Much of Amazon’s workforce, and much of its hiring boom, consists of warehouse workers, while layoffs have been concentrated among white-collar workers across businesses as varied as cloud computing, the Twitch streaming service, MGM Studios and online shoe-seller Zappos.

“For several years leading up to this one, most of our businesses added a significant amount of headcount," CEO Andy Jassy wrote in a March 2023 message to employees. “However, given the uncertain economy in which we reside, and the uncertainty that exists in the near future, we have chosen to be more streamlined in our costs and headcount."

An Amazon spokesman said the company has continued to hire in targeted areas based on business priorities.

All six companies also had their businesses expand sharply by other measures since 2019, increasing revenue in every case faster than they added workers.

Amazon more than doubled sales since 2019, while Meta and Alphabet came close. Apple trailed the pack, with 47% sales growth over the four-year period.

Revenue per employee—a measure of productivity—was higher in 2023 for all the companies than it was before the pandemic.

Write to Theo Francis at theo.francis@wsj.com and Alana Pipe at alana.pipe@wsj.com

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