Elon Musk’s email demanding a ‘hardcore’ work culture at Twitter with a norm of ‘long hours at high intensity’ was not the only controversial act of the social media behemoth’s new owner. It was accompanied by a boardroom clear-out, announcements of dramatic staff reductions, a short-lived staff lock-out and cancellation of flexible working and free staff meals protocols.
But Musk was arguably only following a pathway he himself had carved at Tesla. And if it worked there, then why change the approach?
Even allowing for the dire warnings about Twitter’s financial health, the problem for Musk, and indeed all employers used to operating in similar ways, is that the world has changed in some particularly important ways just recently. The legacy of the Covid pandemic on ideas about work has been profound.
In the case of the Twitter workforce, it isn’t so much that significant numbers of older workers are opting out of employment (what’s been labelled The Great Resignation in the US and elsewhere), but a recalibration of the work-life balance calculation by employees in favour of more life and less (excessive) work.
And what has turbo-charged the debate is partly public health and partly technology. During peak-pandemic, workplaces were locked-down. And even now the notion of going into a workplace, perhaps travelling on public transport where the idea of social distancing is laughable, or spending hours in traffic jams, is something that is no longer a given. I mean, why take the hassle unless you really have to?
But the absolute game-changer is tech. Millions, many many millions, of workers have found that they can do their jobs remotely. They save on travel time and cost. They have better work-life balance. Employers can reduce their overheads. Productivity increases.
Then layer over all this with a shortage of skilled labour – particularly an issue in the UK and in Twitter’s other European hubs, but also applies to a certain extent in the US – and suddenly the rule-by-fear playbook is obsolete.
Things don’t get any better for Musk and those who share his approach, as the new zeitgeist is more in tune with management by consent rather than decree – which in Twitter’s case, is already starting to impact upon their advertising revenue.
If you are going to manage in such a bullish manner, and remove valued employee-benefits, you need to read the economic room carefully. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying $40bn-plus for something that crashes and burns with you at the controls.