It’s not just ex-employees of Tesla that are singing like birds, it now appears that current Tesla employees are also eager to reveal what life is like working under the “cult” of Elon Musk at Tesla. This was confirmed by a massive Business Insider expose on what life is like working at Tesla, according to 42 employees.
The revelations – cult-like worship, Musk hosting his own romantic dinners at the plant, an “unpredictable” home/work life balance and people shitting on the floor – confirm that working for Tesla is extremely high pressure at best, and disorganized mayhem at worst.
Business Insider spoke to 42 people who are either currently employed by the company or have been in the past. These employees hold or held a variety of jobs, from entry-level to managers, at the Fremont headquarters, as well as the Nevada Gigafactory.
To start, the article revealed that Elon Musk apparently brings his dates to the Fremont factory: Musk and a date reportedly strolled through the Fremont factory in 2016 – without wearing safety equipment – to a romantic dinner for two, “complete with tablecloth” in a conference room.
“Elon basically does what he wants, whenever he wants,” one person who saw the date told Business Insider.
While the article notes that the company has a “scrappy” and voraciously hungry start up-company style culture, it also reveals that employees are forced to work long hours and that the “chaos and callousness” takes its toll on employees.
One employee profiled by BI, Jonathan Galescu, a welder on the Model X who works 10 to 12 hours a day, stated that in the four years he’s worked at the company, he has seen many new employee “idealists” run face first into the realities of working for Tesla.
“People quit within the first two hours, people quit after a week. There was one guy who was fresh out of high school, 18 years old, never had a job before and was excited to work: ‘I want to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day!’ By about the fifth day, he was on the floor crying,” Galescu told Business Insider.
Galescu is part of a group that is trying to unionize Tesla. According to the article, he sounded “exhausted” and “more than a little fed up” when he spoke to the publication. One reason he may have a gripe? Employees are reportedly shitting on the floor.
At the Gigafactory, one of the biggest problems is arguably one of the most ridiculous for a company that is valued at over $55 billion: bathrooms. The bathrooms at the Gigafactory are reportedly “scarce [and] often messy”. The Gigafactory employs over 2,400 people and several employees total BI that lines for the bathroom can be long. One person even stated that the men’s bathroom was once so busy that an employee put toilet paper down and “shit on the ground.”
“You don’t try and use the bathroom 15 minutes before shift changes,” George Stewart, a battery production lead at the Gigafactory, is quoted as saying.
The pace of work is also reported to be fast and unpredictable. The attitude at the Gigafactory is reportedly one where making numbers is more important than anything else. It’s reported that employees can be moved and drafted to new parts of a production line with just “a few minutes” of training.
Those that were happy with their jobs were “workaholic types who want to work 70+ hours a week,” according to the article.
How has the company simply not fallen apart due to these conditions?
It may have something to do with the fact that CEO Elon Musk reportedly has a cult-like following. Employees applaud for him when he walks to the front of the room to lead quarterly “all hands” meetings, the article claims. A software engineer is quoted as saying “There’s a big cult-like following for Elon. No company have I worked for, in our quarterly meetings, do you clap when a CEO walks into the podium. So that’s just something that people do at Tesla.”
Some of Musk’s admirers are also intimidated by him: “I ran into him a couple times. He’s like this force field. You could almost see the air parting,” a former communications employee stated.
Employees used various words to describe him, ranging from “aloof” to “intimidating” to “friendly”. Musk reportedly curses a lot, dropping F-bombs during his discussions, and he has also been spotted hugging production workers after the company reaches a milestone.
It’s reported that he spends so much time working on production at the company that “virtually everybody” has a story about finding him asleep somewhere.
Some employees also said they’re afraid of Musk – and that they have received warnings not to go near him or to take his picture.
At the same time, he’s also described as an amazing visionary by his employees.
“Elon is an amazing visionary. He was so right about what five years or 10 years should look like and what is possible. He is super inspiring. He challenges people and pushes them to do things they don’t think they can do and is really great in some ways,” one software engineer told Business Insider.
However, the “Tesla life” means that employees are expected to put their own personal lives on hold. And it also seems that Musk’s public statements wind up becoming gospel to his employees by any means necessary. Buoyed by the belief that they believe they are changing the world, some employees reportedly work long and unpredictable hours happily. However sometimes Elon‘s demands and deadlines can seem mean spirited or arbitrary.
The article notes that the company scored 2.6 out of 5 on Glassdoor for “work life balance” and that employee tenure at the company is just 2.1 years – stated to be at the low-end compared to tech companies like Apple, where that average number is about 5 years.
There is also a constant and serious fear of getting fired in the atmosphere at the company. One employee told Business Insider that Musk has been known to “fire people on the spot”. A solar salesperson stated: “I had a running joke with a buddy of mine on my team. Every time we saw each other we would grin and say, ‘Oh, what a surprise that I see you this time! I thought one of us would be fired by now.'”
A software engineer told BI, about Musk: “You’re not there to be creative. You’re there to fulfill his mission. If you don’t understand that and you’re talking about your feelings, you’re probably going to get fired.”
And while some employees truly believe Musk to be a genius, others have grown to believe he is “not the best leader”.
“He is terrible, terrible at execution and terrible at management. The entire management structure at Tesla is impotent and terrible. There are exceptions, but, on average, most managers at Tesla have no idea what they’re doing,” a former VP exclaimed.
And while some employees praise the company’s open door policy, it has been reported in the past that such a policy can sometimes lead to repercussions.
Musk is also apparently well known for sending out emails that simply say “WTF”. The report notes that recipients of such emails would usually stop what they’re doing and immediately look into whatever the issue it was after being in receipt of such a communication from the CEO.
These e-mails “…would cause huge scrambles,” one employee said. “…you would spend days chasing down some issue that wasn’t a real problem. Giving people a license to email Elon created a bunch of problems with everyday work. There’s a reason why the chain of command exists.”
But Musk’s emails reportedly don’t cause as much panic has his Twitter account. Apparently, many of Musk’s proclamations on Twitter come before he even informs employees about them. “Oh, so that’s what we’re doing now?” some employees are quoted as stating after reading Musk’s Tweets.
For instance, when Musk wrote about specifications for an electric pick-up vehicle, employees didn’t seem to have any detail on the specification goals he spoke about.
One manufacturing employee recalls a similar incident: “One of the guys I worked with was part of the calculations for car performance, and he’d come in the morning, just shake his head, and be, like, ‘Did you see Elon’s last tweet? He wants to add rockets to the car now.’ Just shaking his head, like, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
While some employees defended Musk‘s tweeting habits to BI, it was reported yet again that members of the board want him to stop Tweeting.
The company blames Musk’s lackluster management style on Tesla’s broader mission. “What Tesla is doing is incredibly difficult, as evidenced by the fact that Ford is the only other US car company to never have gone bankrupt,” a Tesla spokesperson is quoted as saying.
Finally, a lot of workers are concerned about safety at the company due to its “unconventional operations”.
Safety has been an issue that we have reported on several times, after a Reveal expose early this year questioned whether Tesla was accurately reporting its workplace safety incidents.
While one engineer defended the company’s safety record by stating “he believed that Tesla’s reputation for poor safety was more like a hangover from its earlier days…” others seem to remain concerned.
Branton Phillips, a material handler, told BI he has witnessed “one, two, three, four stretchers in the last couple of years come by [him]”.
And Business Insider revealed that a report provided to them showed “more than 300 911 calls made from the Fremont facility between January 2016 and March 2018 involving a wide variety of alleged issues, such as intruders on the property and suicide threats.” The article compared this to just 9 calls to 911 at General Motors’ 1,200-employee, 4.3-million-square-foot factory in Lake Orion, Michigan, during the same time period.
To help sort out the chaos, the possibility of bringing on a Chief Operating Officer has been one proposal that Tesla investors seem to have embraced. It is been made clear by both sides of the Tesla debate that Elon Musk seems to be overworked and extremely exhausted. However, it doesn’t look as though Tesla’s lack of a COO so far has been an accident.
One VP is quoted as saying that Musk was simply “never able to relinquish control” of Tesla to a COO, and that instead, “he micromanaged”.
And Musk’s own employees want him to step aside, as well, it seems.
“I respect the guy, [but] I think the best thing that he could do is step away from the CEO position and be the innovator. But he still thinks of it as a startup. I’m sorry — it’s got to mature. It’s got to be a company,” a mechanical engineer reported stated.
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