On Friday morning, we learned that Elon Musk has plans to lay off 10 percent of his Tesla workforce because, as he put it an email reviewed by Reuters, he has a “super bad feeling” about the economy.
Musk, like another infamous billionaire we had to endure in the White House until he was soundly defeated in 2020, made it all about himself.
This follows reports Tuesday of a different leaked internal email written by Musk, stipulating that if any of the nearly 100,000 employees of his Tesla electric car company are still working remotely, they must return to the office full time or he “will assume you have resigned.”
It’s not that a CEO can’t require people to return to the office after over two years of Covid-related remote work. But the arrogant, king-like tone of his email, along with his response on Twitter defending the new policy, reminds us of how unbearable Musk has become.
“Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of forty hours in the office per week,” the email read. Then came the hammer: “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”
From there Musk, like another infamous billionaire we had to endure in the White House until he was soundly defeated in 2020, made it all about himself. “The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence,” the email reads. “That is why I lived in the factory so much- so that those on the line could see me working alongside them.” Musk suggested that if he hadn’t does so, “Tesla would long ago have gone bankrupt.”
Millions of Americans have productively worked from home during the Covid years, and continue to do so now. Over at Facebook, Zuckerberg in 2021 announced a new policy to allow employees to continue working from home, stating, “We’ve learned over the past year that good work can get done anywhere.” And the current CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, the company Musk is in the process of acquiring, stated in his March statement to that company’s nearly 100,000 employees, “The decisions about where you work, whether you feel safe travelling for business, and what events you attend, should be yours.” He added, “Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work, and that includes working from home full time forever.”
A February Pew Research Center poll found that 60 percent of employees who can work remotely want to continue to do so. Some note it’s because it has resulted in a better work-life balance, while a third responded they must work at home because they could not find child care. Hopefully none of those respondents work at Tesla.
Musk’s own record of how he treats his Tesla employees in the office or factory is checkered at best. In 2020, he railed against Covid closures, calling them “fascist,” and reopened his Fremont, California, Tesla plant in violation of the state’s Covid restrictions. More than 400 workers at that Tesla factory reportedly contracted Covid between May, when it was reopened, and December that year. While many other car manufacturers that saw Covid outbreaks shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, Musk did his best to keep the outbreaks in his plant out of the news.
Tesla was sued in February by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of current and former Black workers alleging “rampant racism” against Black Tesla employees.
Tesla was sued in February by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of current and former Black workers alleging “rampant racism” against Black Tesla employees at the Fremont factory that went “unchecked for years.” (Tesla has stated the company "strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment.”) The lawsuit follows an October 2021 case against the company in which a Black former Tesla employee was awarded $137 million for racist treatment. As detailed in that trial, Black employees were subject to racial slurs, including use of the N-word, racist graffiti in bathrooms and being told to “go back to Africa” by colleagues.
You have to wonder if Musk’s new work-in-the-office-or-be-gone policy could be a result of Tesla’s massive stock drop since April, when he began his efforts to acquire Twitter, and significantly ramped up his repeated trolling of Democrats — whom polls show are more likely to buy an electric car than Republicans.
In April, Tesla stock was trading at over $1,100 per share but has since dropped more than 40 percent, on Friday falling to about $735 a share, lower more than the approximately 20 percent drop seen by the rest of the market. This could explain why in mid-May, Tesla’s reported third-biggest investor-billionaire Leo Koguan publicly pressured Musk to help prop the stock price up with a buyback.
Now, it seems like Musk is feeling the heat. And his best answer is to force employees back to the office — or else. Perhaps Musk thinks Wall Street investors will believe mandating workers return to the office will spark more productivity. But in reality, it will likely lead to the loss of some good people beyond the 10 percent he is planning to lay off; polls showing that 60 percent of Americans want the option to work from home, and there are still vastly more jobs open than people to fill the positions.
With all the jobs currently open, Tesla employees can probably find a boss more concerned with their well-being than with trolling people on Twitter and getting his name in the news.