It is fair to say that the world's opinions of tech tycoon Elon Musk are divided. Elon and Tesla's fanboys tend to see him as a genius who is out to save the world from the horrors of climate change - like a green Batman - while a lot of people view him as an extremely eccentric billionaire with crazy opinions. So what would it be like to work for a person like this?
All of Musk's employees sign confidentially agreements, so very little has actually been known about what goes on behind the scenes of Tesla. But a while back there were a few whistleblowers who pulled back the curtain and showed us the peculiar and sometimes dark sides of working for Musk.
We all kind of guessed that something wasn't quite right over at the house of Tesla. There were high profile cases of people in management leaving. The company has been investigated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration due to the high number of accidents. And of course, there's the leader who's spending much of his time on social media criticizing those who oppose him.
But after the former employees came forward we all realized that the Giga Factory is closer to a nightmare than to a place where dreams are made. The ex-employees described working under his guidance as a bizarre and stressful experience, which is very believable seeing as he is known to be a workaholic and ridiculously demanding, something that's reflected in the nearly impossible deadlines he sets for himself and the company. Let's take a closer look at the 20 things Tesla's employees aren't allowed to do.
A car production plant can be a dangerous place if safety regulations are not met and employees are not properly trained and stay alert while working. What makes Tesla different from most workplaces is that instead of wanting potential safety breaches pointed out in order to fix them, Tesla seems to actively discourage their workers from identifying and then reporting any issues.
One worker in the Tesla paint department made the extraordinary claim that he and his colleagues were ordered to walk through a river of raw sewage that had spilled onto the floor of the California factory. Four other employees said they were under constant pressure to avoid production delays and were not given the option to stop work while the plumbing issue was resolved.
Musk has officially stated that his position on unions is neutral, however many former workers have complained that they've been fired for wanting to unionize. What this means is that there isn't much the employees can do about the poor factory conditions.
Any supervisors who overhear production workers discussion unions are quick to shut down the conversation. One employee who was let go in August 2017 recounted how she was told by her colleagues to stop asking questions about unions and to shut up or she would be fired. Interviews with current employees suggest these intimidation tactics are still being implemented by upper and middle management.
Usually, one of the perks of a job is that you get some freebies, or at the very least benefit from an employee discount. Plenty of companies offer their staff additional benefits as an incentive to use the products and services they promote. This serves to keep your employees happy and to recognize the importance they play in the success of the company. But there are no freebies, or even discounts, for Tesla's employees.
Musk has asked employees to stick to a no discount policy, calling it “fundamental to our integrity.” What they can offer the staff is a financing scheme, allowing them to make monthly payments if they buy their own Tesla - for the full price, of course.
Jargon and acronyms are some of Musk's pet peeves. In fact, he hates it so much that he has banned them entirely from all his companies. He sent out a mass email titled ‘Acronyms Seriously Suck', where he ordered that the use of acronyms had to stop immediately, otherwise he would take drastic action.
His reasoning was that acronyms contained unnecessary words and were often confusing and difficult to remember, claiming employees didn’t want to seem dumb when they didn’t understand an acronym and sat there in ignorance. In some ways, the fact that a company boss likes clear communication, and tries to avoid using language that his employees can’t understand, is refreshing.
In another now-famous email, Musk made it really clear that he isn’t a fan of large meetings. Meetings are one aspect of business that can be really tough to avoid, and Elon stated that they are "the enemy of creativity and almost always get worse over time".
His unique solution on how staff can avoid large meetings? Just walk out! Musk's reasoning being this is that it's not rude to leave, but it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time. Pretty much anyone who has been stuck in a boring, unproductive meeting will cheer this kind of company leadership.
It might be a running joke that Elon Musk is a superhuman, but it turns out that one of his superpowers actually is a heightened sense of smell, and he can't stand the smell of perfume or cologne - people are advised to never wear it to work, natural body odors only. Lovely.
There have been some unconfirmed reports that Musk has had staff who fired or moved to another location so that he didn't have to suffer their odor, although Tesla has repeatedly denied it. The irony of all this is that Musk himself has launched his own aftershave, described as a 'sophisticated and undiscovered new scent that embodies the attitude of pioneers. We don't know if employees are allowed to wear it to work.
We've already touched ever so lightly on the subject of safety at the Tesla plant, and whilst it’s clear that the factories are not safe, the problem is exacerbated due to the lack of safety markings. The bizarre reasons for this is that Musk hates the color yellow - which led to a company-wide policy of painting any safety guides in grey, the same color as the factory floor - and he has a phobia of having too many signs around, and he doesn't like caution tape and safety shoes.
This means that Elon's personal tastes have affected the factory’s safety. Musk dismissed these claims as an ideologically motivated attack by union supporters, despite sources of this information.
Part of the reason for the numerous accidents at the Tesla factory is due to a severe lack of equipment maintenance. No part of the production line is allowed to be shut down for any reason, so preventative maintenance schedules are often ignored.
Two former paint shop employees claimed that at least three fires had broken out at the plant due to poorly maintained tools. The lack of maintenance led to a buildup of paint on one of the machines and grounding straps. In one particular incident, sparks ignited the paint and turned the paint sprayer into a flamethrower. Even if there is an accident on the production line, Tesla has instructed its staff to keep working, no matter how serious the injuries involved.
Elon Musk is known for working up to 120 hours a week, but it's one thing that a workaholic enjoys spending all his time on his businesses, after all, they are his babies. It's a whole different thing when you're just an employee without the same reward for being there. But Elon doesn't see things that way.
An anonymous engineer working for Musk revealed how bad things could be at times, claiming that ‘Elon's view of reality is highly skewed’. One employee asked Musk when he could go see his family, and Musk commented that the employee was "definitely not on board with Tesla's mission and values." Tesla employees work such long hours they even coined a name for their zombie, trance-like condition - the ‘Tesla stare.’
"Why do the workers need to go home?" Allegedly, that's what Elon asked one of his managers. So now we know how his brain works.
Several former employees have said that Musk doesn't care if they want to have a life outside of work. In an effort to cut down the reasons why his employees can’t work weekends, Musk launched a new program that would allow employees to live at the Tesla campus in order to push their total weekly hours to 100, ensuring they had no choice but to work Saturday and Sundays. While not against the rules to take weekends off, workers know that showing loyalty might help them keep their jobs during the next round of layoffs.
We've already talked about how Musk is not a fan of big meetings. Well, it's not just the big meetings he wants to keep his staff away from. In an email that was sent to every employee, Musk explained that he expects his staff to walk out of meetings or hang up the phone if they are not directly contributing.
While most companies are organizing meetings where practically nothing gets done - other than eating the free pizza - Musk wants none of that. Efficiency is key, and anyone who isn't coming up with ideas and solutions has no business attending a meeting - they should go back to doing their job.
In 2015, Musk came under fire for scolding a Tesla employee who missed a company meeting to attend the birth of his child (what about the email saying that no one should attend meetings?). Other employees have been prevented from returning to work following a medical leave.
The company has a very strict attendance policy, which sees staff penalized for turning up late, but also for taking time off for family reasons and for being sick. Even turning up one minute late, or clocking off one minute early could see the employee issued with a demerit, as could taking too many sick days in one year, and anyone who gets too many demerits against their name will have their employment terminated regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
All employees have to sign confidentiality agreements, yet it’s been widely reported that workers at the Fremont Tesla factory make far less than the typical U.S. automotive production worker - which means they rely on overtime in order to survive.
The Tesla Gigafactory in Reno has been struggling to find employees due to the perception that the company doesn’t pay enough for its employees to build a retirement fund, or even be able to afford insurance. Those few who've dared to speak up about it and asked for a pay rise were allegedly fired on the spot. Not how we'd expect one of the most famous companies in the world would treat their workers.
The show must ALWAYS go on! The fact that Tesla has been plagued by huge production problems is no secret - the company is regularly failing to meet tough quotas. In order to meet the difficult self-imposed production targets for the Tesla Model 3, factory workers were provided free Red Bull energy drinks to help them battle exhaustion.
Musk himself even slept on the floor of the Fremont, California factory so he didn’t waste time traveling to and from home and was wearing the same clothes for up to 5 days at a time. We bet Elon and his sensitive nose stayed away when workers had to wade through sewage, though. Workplace demand has been so intense that numerous employees developed stress fractures and repetitive strain injuries.
Drawing upon an ancient philosophy named the First Principles Approach, Elon Musk has laid out guidelines on how his employees are expected to think. Things should be boiled down to the most fundamental truth, and then reason up from there.
Believing that everyone is gifted with common sense, Musk encourages employees to ignore company rules, and follow their own logic and intuition instead. Traditional companies usually operate under a ‘chain of command’ to lay out clear lines of authority and decision-making power. However, Tesla employees are told that communication must travel the shortest path necessary to get the job done. The reasoning behind this is that communication that is forced to follow a chain of command is a surefire way to end great ideas.
One of the most detrimental things that anyone can do when it comes to a large company is releasing insider stock information, and this is why Tesla is so strict about employees releasing viable company information to the public.
This is also the case when it comes to the company stock, as the company is very protective of keeping the information private and only releasing it at the shareholder meetings or investor relations. One might argue that there's a very limited amount of things a regular worker at Tesla can do to affect the stock price, at least compared to some of Elon's stunts - such as the time he guested Joe Rogan's podcast or some of his infamous Twitter rants.
Safety regulations take too much time, and one reason for the above-average injury rate at Tesla can be explained by the company’s habit to ignore potential hazards in the workplace. A former employee in the health and safety department told the media that when she warned the company about a potential explosion hazard, she was told it would not be followed up because fixing the problem would require halting the production line.
Emails to the chief of staff regarding safety were routinely ignored. The company uses hoists that were neither engineered nor inspected to lift heavy parts, resulting in numerous employee accidents. Employees were advised to come up with workarounds to any safety hazards and avoid disrupting the crazy work pace.
Tesla is known not only for their quick production schedule but also for the high number of injuries and incidents in the workplace. Work injuries must be hidden - seeing as the injury rate at Tesla factories is already off the charts, the powers that be stopped recording most workplace injuries on legally mandated logs to keep the injury rate down.
Workers have suffered fainting spells, abnormal breathing, chest pains, broken bones, burns, repetitive stress injuries, and seizures. An independent investigation in November 2018 found that Tesla actively hid serious injuries and sent injured workers back to the production line. A physician whistleblower who worked at the factory said her job was to keep as many patients off the books as possible.
In the not-highly-unlikely instance that a Tesla factory worker gets injured while working at the plant, the staff at the in-house medical clinic are not allowed to call 911 without getting permission beforehand. In cases where the injury is not severe, workers are usually sent back to the production line without treatment.
If, however, an ambulance is required, it’s unofficial company policy to send the injured worker to the hospital using a car from Lyft instead. The reasoning behind this is simply to keep as many patients off the books as possible. This will, of course, help lower the reported injury rate or at least reduce the severity of injuries being reported.
He might be a clever and innovative dude, but it shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone that Elon Musk is also prone to bouts of rage, something that often culminates in firing whoever is around him at the time. As a result, managers have warned staff not to ask questions, or raise concerns or objections.
If anyone questions directives from Musk, they would quickly find themselves reassigned, demoted or terminated. Anyone known to be a skeptic or thought to push back will no longer be invited to meetings. A former executive who reported to Musk claimed that every day he came to work wondering if it was going to be his last day with the company.
Sources: CNBC, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Motor Trend, Fortune