The $44 billion (£35.6 billion) takeover of Twitter by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in October 2022 was closely followed by announcements that he intended to make radical changes to his new workforce and their working practices.
Just six days after acquiring the business Musk revealed plans to halve staff numbers, offering three months’ pay to those leaving the company. But underpinning these plans was a desire to change company culture altogether.
In a move to reverse Twitter’s existing policy to work from anywhere, Musk banned remote working 13 days into his tenure.
“A huge mistake”
Commenting on his management style, Christie Jennings, founder of women’s business coaching service topbird, says: “It’s hard to respond to this without steam coming out of our ears. It is a huge mistake to approach leadership with a focus on command and control.”
She believes that while Musk’s tactics may seem to have a short-term benefit, they will have a significant impact on employee engagement and retention among workers who value flexibility.
When it comes to encouraging people back to the workplace, Anthony Painter, policy director at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), thinks it’s important to ensure they are in the office for a reason. He warns that asking people to sit at rows of desks for the sake of it, just to be seen to be there, is a “recipe for resentment”.
“Is there a specific meeting or workshop that will produce a better result if people are in the room? I do believe that there are real benefits to bringing teams together, the dynamic changes and the social connections can help foster a collaborative team environment,” Painter explains.
“Presenteeism is not the answer, mindful collaboration makes complete sense and skilled managers should be able to identify the difference and work with their teams to determine the best solutions.”
Working hours and wellbeing
After only a few weeks in charge, Musk demanded that his staff were “extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” according to an email reported by The Washington Post. The workforce essentially had to comply or leave.
Painter believes that encouraging staff to work in this way is risky business.
“The post-pandemic legacy is that people want to know that their employer considers their wellbeing and trusts them to do their job. Expecting people to sleep in their offices is the polar opposite of trusting your team,” he says. “If those supports are not there, or if they are withdrawn, people will go elsewhere. Or those who stay will not bring that innovation and creativity that is needed as they know their employer is not interested in them, in their career progression.”
A risk to diversity
In the UK in particular, Painter believes have a persistent productivity problem that needs to be addressed.
“Research by a range of organisations has shown that the more diverse the workforce, the more productive it is. This is especially true in management. When your decision-makers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, the organisation outperforms its rivals,” he explains.
Boston Consulting Group carried out an analysis across eight countries which highlighted a significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovation. Organisations that reported above-average diversity within their management teams also revealed innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of those with below-average leadership diversity – at 45% versus only 26% of total revenue.
CMI research also found that the less flexible the employer, the more excluded women become. It found that male managers, for example, are significantly more likely to mostly or completely work from the office (48% versus 38%), while two in five managers surveyed said they had already observed behaviours suggesting they were being treated differently than their male counterparts who were in the office more often.
Painter says: “Even language such as ‘hardcore’ that he has used sends a strong message about a firm’s culture and it is just not one that will resonate with today’s workers.
“It says, quite loudly, that people with caring responsibilities, or with disabilities that need to be managed, or even just people with a hobby they love and want to pursue during their down time need not apply. That means you are automatically narrowing the field of talent that you can attract.”
The impact on talent
Jennings believes the tech entrepreneur’s actions will have a long-term impact on talent retention.“The initial benefit of pushing your workforce can be an increase in profit and productivity, but in the long term it has a remarkable impact on talent retention,” she says.
In a survey by Reuters last year, 70% of the 200 female lawyers interviewed said it was the culture of their workplace that informed their decision to leave, not the demands of motherhood.
“We hear these kinds of stories from women all the time. It’s an incredible shame to see all that talent go to waste,” says Jennings.
The CMI’s Everyone Economy research released last year found that there was a notable ‘say-do gap’. It found that while employers said they wanted to be as inclusive as possible, they were not actually taking tangible steps to increase representation in their ranks of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
“Are HR managers encouraging their employers to measure representation? Are they monitoring their record on recruiting people from disadvantaged backgrounds, people with disabilities, women, ethnic minorities? If not, then how will they know if they are hiring from the widest possible talent pool?” asks Painter.
“Every modern HR manager by now knows that to attract the best talent, you need to cast the widest possible net. By making it clear that you champion flexibility, that you can and will accommodate people from all backgrounds – from the outset of their employment – is crucial.
“Your job adverts need to spell out what your offer is and what your organisation’s culture is all about.”
For employees, Jennings advises a focus on the three Cs: clarity, confidence and courage.
She says: “Employees should first make sure they can articulate what they want. It is situational – they need to be clear in their own mind of what they want before they can negotiate their future.
“When they’re ready to have that discussion with their employer, they can bolster their confidence by making sure their mindset, body language and vocal tone are aligned. Channel nerves into positive energy so you come across grounded and resolute. On this point, rehearsal is essential. Practice how you see the conversation going so you’re ready to stand up for yourself and calmly state your needs.”
Painter believes that Musk’s approach “won’t work and in today’s world”, and with outlets such as Glassdoor that give employees the freedom to rate employers word will spread quickly about a company’s culture. In addition, Twitter’s reputation has suffered, which is something that will no doubt be very hard to regain.
He adds: “The thing to keep in mind is that money is not the only reward that staff are seeking. The pandemic has taught us that time with loved ones, the chance to pick their children up from school, the chance to access training, to develop new skills and to see a career path to promotion are all key ingredients for today’s employee.
“We’ve seen that people who do not feel they are respected will vote with their feet. Even in challenging financial times, the labour shortage, especially skilled labour, remains a very real challenge for hiring managers and leaders across organisations of all sizes.
“I only have one tip for HR departments thinking of following Musk’s style – don’t do it.”