Behind Musk’s starry sea is a “toxic” work culture

Musk may be the best boss in the world at drawing cakes.

He promised to change the world, solve the problem of climate change, bring humans to Mars, use AI to uncover the nature of the universe, and save the population crisis, starting by having more children.

Musk is not just daydreaming. Many goals have already been achieved in stages, and employees are willing to follow him and suffocate for their dreams together.

But just like the plot of Andersen's fairy tale, migrant workers sometimes feel uncomfortable being stung by peas under dozens of mattresses. The uncomfortable "minutiae" under the long-term prospects made them intolerable to Musk.

Beautiful sea of ​​stars, toxic work culture

Recently, SpaceX was accused by the federal agency "National Labor Relations Board" of illegally firing eight employees in 2022 because of an open letter criticizing Musk.

This open letter was drafted by several employees and circulated within the company, calling on SpaceX and Musk to "separate their seats" in public speeches, and asking the company to improve its anti-harassment system.

Employees are not intentionally asking for trouble.

In 2021, four SpaceX employees reported being sexually harassed; in 2022, Musk himself was reported to have harassed a flight attendant and settled for US$250,000. He denied it, calling it a "political conspiracy," and then took the matter up on X The genital joke aroused dissatisfaction among employees and onlookers, who accused him of being the same as Trump.

The open letter was born from this, but the results were not satisfactory.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stopped the spread of the letter, singled out two employees for criticism within a few hours, and fired five employees the next day because they distracted everyone's precious attention: "Please focus on your work and SpaceX's mission. ——Send humans to Mars as soon as possible.”

In addition, a SpaceX vice president also criticized the open letter as an "extremist act" at an employee meeting a few days later, saying that Musk can do whatever he wants in the company, and if employees do not agree with him, they may as well resign.

SpaceX's problems are not only the CEO's remarks and sexual harassment incidents, but also the lack of safety measures that chill employees.

▲ Picture from: Reuters

Reuters counted from public records that since 2014, there have been at least 600 undisclosed workplace accidents at SpaceX's six manufacturing and launch plants, including one death, one person unconscious, and many others disabled.

In 2022, the injury rate at one of the factories was 4.8%, 6 times the industry average.

Most of this data comes from workers working on the front lines of production. Reuters believes that SpaceX has "systemic problems". The operating procedures are not rigorous, and workers do not have adequate protection measures. They often work under conditions of insufficient training and excessive fatigue.

For example, some of the welders set up tents on the undeveloped Gulf of Mexico beach and worked 6×12 hours a week, braving the scorching heat of nearly 38 degrees. When they felt uncomfortable, they would receive intravenous infusions to help them recover before continuing to work.

If strong winds blow, the supervisor will close the tents and cut off ventilation in order not to affect the work, but they will not provide respirators to protect the lungs. The workers can only breathe and share their fate in the toxic dust.

The main reason why SpaceX does not pay attention to safety is similar to the employees who covered their mouths and wrote the open letter – to reduce costs, speed up, land on Mars as soon as possible and save mankind. Safety can also be sacrificed if efficiency is compromised.

At the same time, this is also related to Musk's own concept. As a CEO who plans the blueprint, safety is not his first priority. He himself does not care about safety, and occasionally shows a "giant baby" side.

Musk was once photographed playing with a flamethrower in the SpaceX office, with a proud expression on his face. Employees nearby were worried that he would burn their hair.

What’s even more puzzling is that because Musk hates the bright safety yellow, SpaceX’s machines in California and Texas were repainted black or blue, and workers couldn’t wear yellow vests around him and had to use red tape instead of yellow adhesive tape.

Musk’s style is sometimes dubbed as anti-bureaucratic. He once laughed and said in a podcast that in order to obtain a launch permit, SpaceX had to capture a seal and put headphones on it to listen to the sonic boom of the rocket, proving to the animal control department that the seal would not be affected by the rocket.

While excessive regulation is certainly wrong, Musk's laxity seems to have gone too far.

Compared with the future of immigration to Mars, safety issues and offensive remarks are inconsequential. Workers can only take responsibility for their own safety and contribute to Musk's dream. After being harmed, they can only leave with a small amount of compensation. One of the eight employees who were fired was aggrieved:

At SpaceX, rockets may be reusable, but the people who build them are considered consumables.

Self-disciplined boss, terrible boss

Something similar happened to Tesla in its early years. In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that the safety accident rate at Tesla's factory in 2015 was 31% higher than the auto industry average and similar to sawmills and slaughterhouses.

Tesla did not refute, saying that this was a growing pain for a car company, and promised to improve, reduce overtime, hire more ergonomics experts, and reduce the probability to the lowest in the industry.

The muddle-headed approach to safety issues is completely opposite to Musk’s strict requirements for employees.

His attitude towards his employees is very simple: he is a motivated person, and he also requires others to be motivated people.

Musk works seven days a week and struggles to sleep for six hours a day otherwise he will suffer from severe headaches. He only has two to three days of completely lying down vacation every year. He often spends the night in the office, sending emails to his supervisor or hosting work meetings in the middle of the night.

At the same time, while touring the Tesla factory, he angrily fired employees who couldn't answer questions. After acquiring X and carrying the sink into the headquarters, the number of employees dropped from 7,500 to 1,500. He opposed teleworking. In November 2022, he issued the first all-staff letter at X, stipulating that everyone should work in the office at least 40 hours a week.

Musk's favorite word may be "efficiency." After he acquired He was deeply gratified: "One point for adding a line of code, two points for deleting a line of code."

Esther Crawford, the director of

In July 2023, she used a 15-minute long video to candidly review her feelings while working under Musk.

Before Musk's arrival, X was slow, confusing, and red-tape-y, taking months to build a feature and then withdrawing it at the last minute. After Musk arrived, X became hard-core, laying off employees whenever they were told, and strict project deadlines forced the team to work overtime.

But somewhat paradoxically, product and business decisions are almost always the result of Musk following his intuition, not bottom-up, A/B testing, and relying on a large amount of data and expertise. Musk initiated it on his own X account Users voted and even asked friends and his biographer for advice.

This has led to Musk’s lack of perspective from ordinary users and also led to Musk’s fickleness.

▲ Users used rumors to ridicule Musk.

For example, starting from August 2023, when sharing news links from external websites to X, the titles will no longer appear, and some users may think that they are only seeing pictures. This directly affects the probability of jump links and the traffic of news websites.

This change was directly decided by Musk, "for the sake of beauty." He also welcomes creators to publish long-form content directly on X. He himself no longer watches traditional news often. Recently, however, headlines have returned, but in tiny font sizes.

After Musk took office, X was criticized for the proliferation of false information. On the one hand, he laid off most of the employees in the trust and safety team. On the other hand, he completely changed the verification mechanism, changing the "blue V" only for public figures into a paid subscription for all users.

But just like at SpaceX, Musk still has the final say at X.

Sheon Han, who resigned from X, wrote in The New Yorker that the company could no longer tolerate criticism of Musk. In the past they could mention the name of a co-founder or CEO without hesitation, and executives would respond tactfully, but when Musk arrived, questioning meant packing up and leaving.

This is why former employees of X believe that Musk does not run X well. He understands engineering, technology, and cars, but he doesn’t necessarily understand social products and how to promote connections and communication between people, because he himself is a poor communicator.

In Walter Isaacson's "The Biography of Musk", Musk's "Devil Mode" is mentioned. This is Musk's alter ego. When employees cannot keep up with his rhythm, he will become like a tyrant.

Isaacson pointed out that this method only works about 80% of the time, and problems occur in the remaining 20%, causing employees to be afraid of delivering bad news to Musk.

Esther Crawford, who left her job, also conveyed a similar feeling. She thinks Musk himself is very interesting and has some quirks, such as telling the same stories and jokes over and over again, and may switch from excitement to anger in an instant, "His boldness, enthusiasm His story-telling skills are inspiring, but his lack of empathy is painful."

The top internet celebrity in the tech world that people love to hate

However, even employees who have resigned cannot simply hate Musk. They even have complicated feelings of love and hate. The media who like to criticize Musk have also honestly used Musk as a traffic password for many years.

At about the same time, when SpaceX was pushed to the forefront, Musk also fell into a drug abuse scandal due to a report by the Wall Street Journal. He was exposed to taking cocaine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs at a private party with extremely high thresholds.

He scolded the report for being false, claimed to undergo regular drug testing, and angrily criticized the Wall Street Journal for not rationing birds as toilet paper, implying that this was another attack on him by the mainstream media in the United States. His followers believed that this was the traditional media suppressing the rise of X. rise.

The media likes to report on Musk’s words and deeds, and employees have mixed feelings about Musk, which is actually reasonable.

On the one hand, Musk goes straight to the stars and the sea to plan the future of mankind and practice the famous saying "I would rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right."

His influence in electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, aerospace, Internet communications, etc. has strangled the throat of the United States, and even the Pentagon has asked for his opinions. The founder of LinkedIn even said that Musk is sometimes like Louis XIV, the Sun King: I am the country.

In 2012, Musk told "Wired" magazine that he visited NASA's website and found no timetable for reaching Mars. This surprised him and thought he was looking in the wrong place. Then he decided to do it himself. Founded SpaceX in 2002.

Musk gave a deadline, but failed to deliver on time. He did not fly around the moon carrying tourists in 2014, and SpaceX only carried out its first manned mission in 2020. It has also failed to implement the hyperloop proposed in 2013, which would allow trains to approach the speed of airplanes. The starship has blown up twice, and while each time is better than the last, the dream of Mars remains a distant dream.

Some say Musk is a professional liar, but he is indeed getting closer to these goals, so his followers believe that he can reach the end of all dreams. He is crazy, adventurous, and has strong execution ability. Although he will mess up things, just like SpaceX, which is on the verge of bankruptcy and risks everything for its fourth launch, he can often survive when his life hangs by a thread.

Musk, on the other hand, is not boring; he is a high-profile billionaire, a figure lying in the riverbed of pop culture.

Musk has indeed used illegal drugs, smoking marijuana on comedians' shows, and claiming to take small doses of ketamine to relieve depression because it is more effective than traditional depression drugs that "turn people into zombies." He also often joked about drugs, and if he could buy Coca-Cola, he would add cocaine.

In 2018, Musk joked that he would take Tesla private at $420 per share, forcing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate. In the same year, Musk openly slandered a diver who criticized him as a pedophile. A lawyer defended him in court. "Pedophilia" was just a strong word and did not represent the facts.

More importantly, Musk believes that He continued to be reckless in X, and then he actually bought X in 2022 and set the automatic reply of X's media mailbox to the "shit" emoji.

In November 2023, Musk liked an anti-Semitic tweet from At a subsequent media summit, he called out Disney CEO Bob Iger and used swear words to express that he would not be threatened with money from advertisers.

It is indeed difficult for anyone to threaten him. Google's Pichai, Microsoft's Nadella, Apple's Cook, and Nvidia's Jensen Huang often speak thoughtfully, and their use of social media is also centered around the company's business.

Only Musk has shaped his personal IP. He is his own spokesperson. His uncontrollable mouth always gets him into trouble. Scandal is part of his public image.

Without any one characteristic, Musk would not be Musk. He is a capitalist, a hard worker, a big internet celebrity, he endures hardships and makes others work hard, he is the owner of American factories.

It is as sharp as autumn frost and can ward off evil disasters. Work email: [email protected]

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