Marc Benioff says newer Salesforce employees are less productive

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Sales team co-CEO Marc Benioff told employees in a Slack post on Friday that the company’s newest hires aren’t productive enough, and asked for feedback on why that’s the case.

“Aren’t we building tribal knowledge with new hires with no office culture?” he asked in a message viewed by CNBC. He said he was “asking for a friend,” a phrase people often use on the Internet to humorously express their curiosity about a topic. The message contained a smiling face emoji with a halo over it, suggesting innocence.

Benioff’s company-wide message addresses what has become a hot-button issue in Silicon Valley. Since the advent of Covid sent workers home nearly three years ago, companies are trying to reinvent a future workplace that offers workers more flexibility than in the past. Some companies have allowed employees to work anywhere on a permanent basis.

Salesforce, San Francisco’s largest private employer, was one of the first technology companies to tell its staff not to come back. Last year, Salesforce acquired communication app Slack, and Benioff said people can work from home very effectively. Salesforce said it would let teams decide how much time they would be on duty.

But Benioff may recognize some of the challenges remote working poses. On Friday, he highlighted an issue he said affected employees who joined Salesforce this year and last year. Salesforce’s workforce grew 32% over the past year and last month it cut hundreds of jobs.

A Salesforce spokesperson declined to comment on Benioff’s post, but sent a statement about the company’s policies.

“We have a hybrid work environment that empowers leaders and teams to work together with purpose,” the spokesperson wrote. “They can decide when and where to come together to collaborate, innovate and drive customer success.”

Benioff faces slowing revenue growth as the economy weakens and a thinning of senior ranks within Salesforce. Last month, the company said Bret Taylor would step down as co-CEO in January. A year earlier he had just been promoted to share the top job with Benioff. And days later, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield announced his departure.

Here’s the full text of Benioff’s Slack post:

How do we increase the productivity of our employees at salesforce? Especially new employees (recruited during the pandemic in 2021 & 2022) are experiencing much lower productivity. Is this a reflection of our office policy? Aren’t we building tribal knowledge with new hires without office culture? Don’t our managers speak directly to their teams about productivity? Are we not investing enough time in our new employees? Do managers spend enough time and energy on onboarding new employees and achieving productivity? is it too overwhelming to come to the sales team as a new employee? Asking for a friend. (I’m leaving this open-ended to get the broadest level of response.)

The message provoked several reactions.

Some responded with an emoji that read “THIS” next to an up arrow. Others chose emojis that read “WFH” or “need a quote.” Dozens went with a default emoji known as thinking face.

Benioff fell in the comments again.

“Asking employees (and customers and each other) hard questions for their answers is one of the most effective ways to get answers as a leader today,” he wrote. “That’s why we bought Slack because there’s no better way to quickly ask questions and collect answers. Today we already have almost 500 answers to these questions – great and incredibly useful!”

He was dissatisfied that his message reached the press and eventually ended up on Twitter.

“I hope you agree that it is also disappointing that our private conversations here were almost immediately given to the public media,” he wrote. “I wonder how we can emphasize that trust is our highest corporate value? How can we demonstrate the power of trust and transparency without immediately making it public. It goes to the core of who we are at salesforce.”

His reactions were shared with CNBC.

WATCH: Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff on Bret Taylor’s departure from the company