The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s why Elon Musk is the worst kind of boss

Doubling down on the CEO’s ‘hardcore’ work philosophy, Twitter reportedly turned some offices into bedrooms

(Photo illustration by Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

I’ve had my share of dreadful supervisors. One regularly sent me to the bathroom in tears, unremorseful about her hazing camouflaged as summer intern training.

Famously bad bosses abound. British supermodel Naomi Campbell pleaded guilty in 2007 to assault for hitting her housekeeper with a cellphone in a dispute over a pair of jeans. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey K. Skilling helped hasten the energy company’s collapse, landing himself in prison for fraud and costing thousands of workers their jobs.

Looking back at 2022, though, Elon Musk emerged as the grand marshal of maniacal management.

Musk purchased Twitter in late October by loading the social media company with a massive amount of debt. Days later, he eliminated half the staff, decimating entire divisions to cut costs. The layoffs were carried out so fast the company had to backtrack and ask some workers to return.

Those who remained were told to commit, in writing, to a “hardcore” workplace or quit. “This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” Musk said in an email to employees.

Hundreds chose unemployment, refusing to sign a pledge to perform at levels best reserved for robots.

Musk issues ultimatum to staff: Commit to ‘hardcore’ Twitter or take severance

Now, there are reports the San Francisco-based company brought in beds for staffers. The city’s Department of Building Inspection also received the following complaint: “Hello, several offices at Twitter have apparently been turned into motel rooms for workers to live in, contrary to code.”

The city investigates all complaints to ensure buildings are being used as intended, Patrick Hannan, communications director for the department, said in an emailed statement. “There are different building code requirements for residential buildings, including those being used for short-term stays.”

Even if there is no code violation, the addition of beds is implicit pressure to overwork.

Musk, for his part, tried to deflect by tweeting a question to the mayor of San Francisco.

Musk defends bedrooms at Twitter headquarters as San Francisco investigates

“So city of SF attacks companies providing beds for tired employees instead of making sure kids are safe from fentanyl,” Musk tweeted. “Where are your priorities @LondonBreed!?”

Irony, thy name is Musk.

So, with all that, Musk is my choice for Bad Boss of the Year.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Perhaps the few souls left in the communications department — if it still exists — were taking a much-needed nap.

I’m sure there are other equally worthy bad-boss nominees, but none so bold as to broadcast their outrageous treatment of workers on social media.

Elon Musk showed us how not to fire people

Musk follows the management theory that your salary is supposed to buy your commitment to making your job the top priority. Forget your family and personal life. Or sleep.

Since the pandemic, there’s been a movement of “quiet quitting,” people who are pushing back on unwritten rules that they must put in unpaid overtime to be considered an excellent employee. Quiet quitters decide that going above and beyond was taking them under, physically and emotionally.

How the pandemic ended America’s bad romance with work

A family member called me recently. Her work day officially ends at 4 p.m., but she would rarely leave when her shift ended. She’s worked on her days off, during the weekend, even on vacations.

Her reward for such dedication?

More work.

But on this night, I was shocked to find she was home by 7.

“I’m not giving them any more of my time when it’s not appreciated,” she said.

Workplace loyalty by dedicated employees often doesn’t work both ways.

Stock price falling? Fire people.

Stock price rising? Give top executives fat raises.

The folks on the ground who grind out tasks every day that make the company profitable might get a holiday party at the end of the year with a charcuterie board with some kind of soft cheese most won’t eat.

Workers need work-life balance, and this means setting boundaries. Sure, employees may pull an occasional all-nighter to finish an important project. But bringing in beds because the expectation is that going home is a sign you don’t work hard enough is abuse. It creates a toxic environment.

When Musk emailed his ultimatum to staff, he said, “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

What Musk is communicating is that a staffer can never be less than the GOAT (the greatest of all time).

Except, no one can operate like that for long. People’s health and emotional well-being get damaged.

The consequences of worker burnout are real, Gallup found in a 2019 report.

Employees who frequently experience work burnout are 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room. They are also nearly three times as likely to look for another job, Gallup said.

“For organizations, employee burnout comes with a hefty price tag,” the Gallup report said. “It triggers a downward spiral in both individual and organizational performance. When employees are burned out, most of their energy and mental focus is on daily survival, not developing for the future.”

What Musk is doing doesn’t inspire greatness long-term. And beds aren’t a comfy office perk. They’re contributing to a bad work environment. Tweet that.

Have you endured a boss who is heavy on demands but light on humane leadership? Send an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com.

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

Recession-proof your life: The tsunami of economic news in 2022 is leading consumers, investors and would-be homeowners alike to ask whether a recession is inevitable. Whether a recession comes, there are practical steps you can take to help shield yourself from a worst-case scenario.

Credit card debt: It is the worst debt to carry in good times. Here are seven ways to lower your credit card debt in light of the Fed’s signaling additional rate increases in 2023.

Test Yourself: Do you know where you stand financially? Take our quiz and read advice from Michelle.

Money moves: With the stock market losing 21 percent in the first half of 2022, and inflation a worry to consumers, people are desperately seeking a place to park their extra cash. If you have money sitting around earning a little more than 1 percent, if that much, I bonds are an attractive deal.

Loading...