One More Worry for Tesla’s Elon Musk: Worker Angst

A new study ranks Tesla employees at the top of the list of worried tech workers.
By: | February 15, 2019 • 2 min read

Tesla has its share of challenges, not the least of which is meeting its Model 3 production goals for the year. But as it advances on its path to profitability, the Palo Alto, Calif., automotive and energy firm apparently has another worry on its hand: workforce anxiety.

A survey released this week by workplace app Blind found Tesla, which is considered by many a tech concern, had the highest percentage of employees who are worried about layoffs and their future, compared to other tech companies that are part of the Blind community. The survey, which ran on the site in early February, received 8,230 user responses.

Overall, around 36 percent of the respondents said they were concerned about layoffs at their company. But in the case of Tesla, double that number (72 percent) said they were worried.

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Tesla was followed on the ranking (see the full list below) by eBay and Snapchat, with around 72 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, Google had the lowest percentage of employees who were worried about layoffs, with only 11 percent saying that was the case. Facebook (12 percent) and LinkedIn (15 percent) were the next two lowest.

Kevin Sheridan, an expert in the area of employee engagement, points to three reasons why Tesla employees may be nervous:

First, he says, Tesla’s model is being consistently questioned. “They lowered the pricing on some of the vehicles and that puts pressure on margins.”

Second, he notes, they’re continually going after more funding, which often isn’t a good sign.

And finally, he says, their founder and leader, Elon Musk, is “all over the map, dabbling in all those other ventures; so, people are questioning how focused he is on Tesla.”

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Nor does it help that in January, the company announced it would be laying off 7 percent of its workforce, the second layoff in less than a year. In an email sent to employees on Jan. 18, Musk wrote: “We unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7 percent … and retain only the most critical temps and contractors. Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months.”

So, what steps should Musk and the Tesla leadership team take to ensure these concerns don’t get out of hand and undermine the company’s future?

Remembering back to when he ran a company that did employee-satisfaction studies, Sheridan says that the strategy-initiative dimension was typically one of the lowest-scoring dimensions for companies that were on the heels of a layoff. “Employees would say to themselves, ‘Wait a minute, who’s in charge here? Why were these layoffs necessary—and are there going to be more?’ ” he recalls.

In response, Sheridan says, employers in this position need to keep reassuring their employees and avoid another layoff at all cost—so, “people aren’t asking, ‘How long will go on?”

At the same time, he adds, the CEO needs to be very visible and involved, thereby setting an example.

 

David Shadovitz is editor of HRE. He is also co-chair of the HR Tech Conference and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. He can be reached at [email protected]