Late on Tuesday, workers at Tesla got an email from their boss. “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” CEO Elon Musk wrote, according to a report from Bloomberg. “This is less than we ask of factory workers.” A second email — subject line: “To be super clear” — soon appeared, reiterating the 40-hour minimum and reminding staff that they must report to an actual Tesla office, not “some remote pseudo” office. “If you don’t show up,” Musk wrote, “we will assume you have resigned.”
The factory hours that Musk holds up as an exemplar of the company’s work ethic, as Bloomberg notes, include workers in Shanghai pulling “12-hour shifts, six days a week” and “sleeping on the factory floor” for months in an attempt to keep COVID-19 at bay while still hitting production goals. Musk, in his emails to staff, bragged that this was something he was willing to do — and has done — himself: “That is why I lived in the factory so much — so that those on the line could see me working alongside them,” he wrote in the second email. “If I had not done that Tesla would long ago have gone bankrupt.”
At this point, Musk’s pivot to cartoon supervillain is basically complete. In the last few months, he’s faced allegations of racism and sexual harassment in the workplace. He’s doing the weird Twitter stuff. He seems to long for a time before basic labor law. This general disposition, as it apparently translates to the culture at Tesla, has caused turnover — which he’s also explicitly calling for by telling workers to come to the office or expect to be fired. “Surviving 10 years of the grind at Tesla is a rare achievement,” writes Edward Niedermeyer, who interviewed over 100 Tesla employees for his book Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, “and it is common for talent to be squeezed dry or pushed out before the end of the company’s four-year stock vesting period.” One particularly unnerving example in the book involves Musk’s apparent glee about a post-worker future at Tesla. “Tesla’s manufacturing engineers were aghast when, also in 2016, Mr. Musk publicly committed to developing a fully automated factory that required no human workers,” Niedermeyer writes. (The project ultimately failed: “Tesla built two assembly lines that attempted to automate tasks requiring levels of dexterity and flexibility that modern robotics is still far from attaining.”)
Tesla’s executives might need some help from Goldman’s junior bankers. Can someone put them in touch?