Elon Musk’s reputation precedes him.
The apparently impulsive and demanding boss of SpaceX and Tesla is known for giving priority to the product. And whether the employees who build the products agree with the way he wants to achieve his ambitions, or with the ambition itself, they are often expected to do everything they can – sometimes they sleep on the factory floor – to achieve it. to do, or otherwise.
While there is precedent for the billionaire’s first acts as head of Twitter, few employees of the social media platform could have prepared for what followed in the first month after his acquisition.
Twitter employees bracing for what was to come under Musk’s leadership got a glimpse of the kind of boss he would be through years of coverage of Tesla and SpaceX and countless lawsuits.
For example, in June, after Musk laid off about 500 employees from Tesla’s Giga factory in Sparks, Nevada, two former employees sued the company for allegedly violating California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (Warn) Act, which requires a 60-day notice. required in advance. as well as wages and benefits for that period. In 2017, Musk announced that soon-to-be-released Tesla vehicles would have hardware that would eventually allow the cars to drive themselves, surprising and frustrating some of the company’s own engineers. Musk also said he expected Tesla employees to work 100 hours a week leading up to the Model 3 release. And in 2020, Tesla disbanded its public relations department.
On Twitter, days after the billionaire took over, workers saw similar patterns. In the second week, nearly half of the company’s workforce was laid off with little notice, prompting some to pre-emptively file a class action lawsuit alleging that Musk violated California labor laws. Among the layoffs was the company’s communications department, leaving Twitter without a public relations team. Twitter is also facing a second complaint filed on behalf of a group of contractors who also claim they received no notice before they were terminated.
In the meantime, Musk made announcements of product changes or statements on Twitter, and his new hires raced to get them done, tweeting pictures of their sleeping bags on the floor. But just as quickly as he made employees roll out new features like paying for Twitter Blue subscription verification, he made them roll it back because of a host of issues, including accounts posing as brands and public figures being verified.
But some of what he’s done goes beyond what’s been reported or seeped into the public arena at Musk’s other companies. Part of it is designed. After a series of employee leaks, Tesla required its employees to “renew their vows” and sign new confidentiality agreements in 2018 that banned them from speaking to the media. The confidentiality agreement was the subject of a legal challenge from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for violation of workers’ rights.
On Twitter, where the culture before Musk allowed some degree of public pushback or criticism of company policies, employees — or now former employees — are also seeing their voices suppressed. Several employees who publicly tweeted corrections or pushed back on Musk’s claims were fired. In one instance, Musk publicly announced the resignation of a named engineer Eric Frohhnhoefer, tweeting “he’s fired” in response to Frohnhoefer’s tweet correcting an assessment Musk had made about why the site was so slow. Musk later deleted the tweet. Then the CEO of Tesla made light of the terminations. Musk also reportedly fires employees who have criticized him on Slack, the third-party messaging service employees use internally.
On the productivity side, Musk has asked employees to decide whether they are willing to work long hours “at high intensity” or leave and take a three-month layoff, the New York Times reported. The deadline for their decision was Thursday evening. Many employees — some reports estimate between 1,000 and 1,200 of the remaining staffers — chose to take the severance pay, leaving some critical roles and teams with a skeleton crew.
“Only exceptional performance constitutes a pass,” read the letter he wrote to employees.
Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing Twitter employees and contractors who have been laid off, said her firm has “answered calls from Twitter employees who wanted clarity about their rights.” Liss-Riordan served one new lawsuit on Thursday, ahead of the deadline, alleging that the company’s requirement to come to the office and work long, high-intensity hours violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The proposed class action was filed on behalf of a technical manager who said he was fired for refusing to report to the office because of a disability that put him at risk of Covid-19.
“Since taking control of Twitter, Elon Musk has brought a lot of pain and uncertainty to the company’s employees in such a short time,” Liss-Riordan said in a statement. “His latest midnight ultimatum to employees that they must decide tomorrow whether they want to be part of the ‘new Twitter’ has put them in an incredibly difficult position.”
Musk’s behavior may come as a shock to many, but it’s not entirely surprising to former Tesla and SpaceX employees. At SpaceX, eight former employees allege a similar culture of retaliation and filed a complaint with the NLRB on Thursday alleging they were fired for challenging Musk in an open letter in June. “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment to us,” the letter read.
At Tesla, former employees said Musk cared about little more than the product and that negotiating disagreements with the billionaire requires some goodwill typically developed by building or helping launch successful products. Working long hours is also inevitable, said a former Tesla employee, so people have to decide how sustainable that is for them.
Musk’s management style and decisions at Twitter are likely to continue to play out in the public eye due to the nature of the business and the newly minted social media executive’s propensity and inability to resist tweeting. By the end of the first week of November, Musk was on track to tweet more than 25 times a day. But it’s unclear how long Musk plans to stay at the helm of the now-controversial platform. During a lawsuit on Nov. 16 challenging how Tesla’s CEO got a board-approved compensation package now worth $52bn (£44bn), Musk said he eventually intended to hand over the reins of Twitter.
“I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find someone else to run Twitter over time,” he said.