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It was slightly over a week ago when Elon Musk issued his ultimatum to Twitter employees — commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter, or leave the company with severance pay.
Before that, Musk had laid off half the employees with an impersonal and unsigned email. He also fired several employees for criticising or correcting him in their tweets or Slack messages. Worse still, he publicly revelled in their dismissals like a playground bully celebrating the act of breaking Tiny Tim’s crutches.
But since this is Elon Musk, his behaviour is sure to be scrutinised and emulated by employers and middle management everywhere. After all, Musk is the world’s richest man, so he surely must be doing something right?
All of this does not bode well for long-suffering employees already living under the tyranny of callous bosses demanding round-the-clock servitude.
So, has Musk unwittingly normalised bad behaviour to usher in a new era of workplace bullying?
Working for Elon
Way before the drama at Twitter, Musk’s hostile approach to management is nothing short of legendary.
At Neuralink, a brain implant company, the working environment is reportedly toxic, intense, and driven by fear.
The spate of horror stories continued at Tesla, where Musk yelled at his staff, labelling them as idiots who do not know what they are doing. There are also instances of racial discrimination, an abysmal safety record and wonton disregard for public health.
In the eyes of Musk, it is clear that employees are disposable, like single-use plastic.
One can forget mutual respect and the conventional wisdom of talent management. The cult of personality surrounding Musk meant he never had problems attracting the best and brightest to work at his companies.
Back at Twitter, the firings were only the beginning. According to the email obtained by the Washington Post, Musk was explicit about his expectations.
“This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” he said. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
Not willing to accept the culture of the new regime, hundreds of Twitter employees have resigned en masse in the face of what they considered despotism under Musk.
The vindication of toxic bosses
Far from being warm and cuddly, Musk is a toxic employer with a God complex. And instead of being cancelled, he manages to get away with it, acquiring rockstar status along the way with legions of fans.
For now, the problem with Musk’s behaviour since taking over Twitter is that his exploits have gone mainstream. While his earlier outbursts were well documented, SpaceX and Tesla are not household names anywhere near the league of Twitter.
Out in the real world, and beyond the “be kind” memes, there is already a fair share of employers with Herculean arrogance. The ones who sincerely believe that their strong-armed tactics are a testament to good leadership.
Even without the ritual of public humiliation, it is common for middle managers to harangue their subordinates to work harder and longer. What better way to justify it than to quote Musk, “That to achieve great things, one must work long hours.”
There are also countless more who will wonder if the days of indulging and listening to their staff are over. Why waste time consulting when one could issue a demand, Elon-style?
Like it or not, Elon Musk, real-life Tony Stark and visionary, have become the accidental poster boy of awful bosses. He has no qualms about trampling over his employees and imposing his personal beliefs like an autocrat.
As the world continues to give Musk the benefit of the doubt to excuse his bad behaviour, it has the unintentional effect of legitimising it.
And unlike top-tier engineers who can quit in protest, those lacking that privilege have little choice but to put up with whatever their bosses are throwing at them.
Featured Image Credit: Business Insider