On April 26, Deadline ran a story titled “WarnerMedia Employees Asked To Return To Office On Short Notice By Warner Bros. Discovery.” The four-paragraph post was prompted by chatter I had heard that WarnerMedia employees were upset over a memo they had received earlier in the day by Warner Bros. Discovery’s chief people and culture officer Adria Alpert Romm. In it, Romm informed staffers that they will be required to be in the office at least three times a week by June 1 and can ease into that hybrid schedule by starting to go to the office at least twice a week in May.
What happened next has been pretty extraordinary. The story has became an unofficial referendum on the new Discovery regime, which took over the combined company after the $43 billion merger with WarnerMedia closed April 8. The piece has been read about 42,500 times, which is more than the workforce of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery, with the comments section taking on a life of its own as a message board – and a sounding board – for WarnerMedia employees who anonymously share their feelings about the return-to-work mandate and what the policy says about the changing culture at the storied media company.
Twelve days later, the discussion continues, with more than 120 comments and new ones posted daily amid high post-merger anxiety and rampant speculation about pending downsizing at various WarnerMedia divisions — from the ad-supported entertainment linear networks to HBO Max to New Line — as WBD aims to deliver $3B in cost-savings.
There are a handful of supporters of the new three-day-a-week in-office policy, which has been in place at Discovery since last fall, but the majority strongly object to the mandate and threaten to quit over it, making this a test for the new leadership as they try to win over the hearts and minds of WarnerMedia staffers.
A number of WarnerMedia employees point to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s comments during the April 14 town hall meeting with the WM staff, “Be patient with us,” noting that the return-to-work memo came shortly thereafter, leaving them “shocked, confused but mostly pissed.”
“Asking for patience while WBD figures out what to do and 2 weeks later saying ‘we don’t care about anything except what we want from you’ is a pretty big disconnect,” one person said. Added another, “Not a very auspicious start to our partnership.”
Some employees note that WarnerMedia’s previous regime had done a survey during the pandemic, with staffers overwhelmingly asking for flexibility, which they were granted, while others claim they joined the company in the past two years because they were assured that they could work remotely.
“There are more Warner Media employees than Discovery employees in the US yet our voices do not matter,” one person wrote.
A number of people claim that entire teams, including some in engineering departments, plan to quit If the hybrid schedule is enforced, which would be a jolt to the newly merged company. For now, the plan remains in place, requiring everyone to be in the office at least three times a week starting June 1, a spokesperson for Warner Bros. Discovery confirmed to Deadline.
Many see irony in implementing a back-to-work mandate ahead of the looming layoffs, though it’s possible that the new leadership would want to take a look at how staffers work in the office before making layoff decisions.
“Why is Discovery insisting we alter our lives, change our work patterns and come back to an office when many of us are about to be laid off?,” one person asked. “Could just have easily laid off people first and then in a few weeks time only required those who still remain to return. It’s just salt in the wound.”
While it touches on various things, the man focus of the thread of comments is on the meshing – or clashing – of the two cultures.
One remark that has received a huge response reads, “From an employee that has been with Warner for over 20 years … this really feels like McDonalds has bought a Michelin star restaurant and thinks they know how to run it.”
A person who identified themselves as an employee of Scripps Networks, which Discovery acquired four years ago, warned, “Prepare yourself for a decimated culture.”
Many WarnerMedia staffers have previous experience trying to adjust to a different corporate culture, after the company’s acquisition by AT&T. In his first public remarks to them at the post-merger town hall, Zaslav promised that the merging of the cultures will be done with respect to WarnerMedia workers, who represent about 74% of the combined company.
“And so we need to now come together as one culture, one culture that starts with people feeling safe, people feeling valued for who they are, because number one, you can’t be creative,” he said. “(You) can’t be effective unless you feel comfortable.”