With the economy in a slump, and company headcount has grown sharply in recent years, the mandate to managers was to clamp down on free-wheeling spending. “We need to halt the growing practice of handing out random T-shirts and other goodies for simply attending a required business meeting,” the sternly-worded memo stated. Other examples of excess included catered lunches and oversized teams. “Every penny counts,” and everyone—from those in the executive suite to front-line coders—should get used to eating “weenies not shrimp.”
The year was 1993, and Microsoft had reached its limit on lavish employee spending and recreation.
The “Shrimp and Weenie Guidelines” memo, authored by Microsoft’s head of HR at the time, Mike Murray, became a touchstone in the software company’s history, and one which has renewed resonance among tech companies today.
Steven Sinfosky, the former president of Microsoft’s Windows business, shared the memo on Twitter on Tuesday, noting the similarities to the current state of affairs. “These stages of cutbacks are a natural evolution, not just of tech companies but all companies,” Sinofsky noted in a fascinating, must-read 15-tweet thread.
Financial prudence is top of mind at many — if not most — tech companies today. Only four months into the new year, 554 tech companies have laid off a total of 167,004 employees, according to Layoffs.fyi. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg branded 2023 as the company’s “Year of Efficiency,” which included mass layoffs and nixed free laundry services. Salesforce, a company that has long referred to its employees as a family, has laid off thousands of employees and lowered its annual “gratitude” bonuses.
The changes have been jarring to employees who haven’t lived through previous downturns. Tech employees have long enjoyed their over-the-top perks, a time-honored tradition of free snacks and bean bags was what drove computer science grads to companies like Meta in the first place — with the expectation that they work long hours to provide shareholder value. If they were going to live at the office, the company would have to entice them with ping pong, IPAs, and high six-figure salaries.