Elon Musk is urging employees to return to the office or quit. The gloves are off: “Tesla launches its own local Great Resignation”

Elon Musk gives his employees an ultimatum.

Tesla’s TSLA,
CEO and Founder responded to an obvious one on Thursday leaked email urging employees to return to the office: “They should pretend they work somewhere else,” his wording read on Twitter TWTR.
in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The email in question, dated May 31 and signed “Elon,” was open and addressed to executives at the electric car maker. It was bluntly titled, “Remote work is no longer acceptable.”

The Great Resistance has seen employees compete against companies over whether to return to the office full-time after more than two years of working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned people’s lives upside down, causing more than 1 million deaths in the US alone, but it has also given millions of workers a rare glimpse of the opportunity to work remotely and still to be as productive as before when they were in the office.

Tesla, which employs around 100,000 people worldwide, has already taken a hit in Germany, where it employs 4,000 people and plans to expand to 12,000. IG Metall in the German state of Brandenburg-Saxony, where the German Tesla plant is based, did not respond kindly to Musk’s return-or-quit dictates. Reuters reported on Thursday.

“Anyone who does not agree with such unilateral demands and wants to oppose them has the power of the trade unions behind them according to the law in Germany,” said Birgit Dietze, district leader of IG Metall in Brandenburg-Saxony, the news agency.

It’s not too surprising that some employees are harshly pushing back on management’s expectations about a return to in-person work, even as most employees’ legal options are limited. “When we feel someone is trying to force us into something, we tend to counter that change with equal force,” says David Schonthal, professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“One thing people value above all else is our autonomy. In the last two years we have lost camaraderie and personal exchanges with our colleagues, but we have gained our autonomy where we can create our own schedule,” he added.

Employees may have legal grounds in the US under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they have a medical condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. But if the requirement to report to the bureau doesn’t conflict with a stay-at-home order in their state — long since repealed in the US — even unionized workers who wish to work remotely have probably no luck.

“When we feel someone is trying to force us into something, we tend to counter that change with equal force.”

– David Schonthal, Professor of Strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

In the aforementioned Tesla email, Musk said exceptional circumstances would be considered and reviewed directly by him, but noted that managers couldn’t just show up at the most convenient Tesla office. The email also read: “Additionally, the ‘office’ must be a main Tesla office, not a remote branch unrelated to job duties, e.g. B. Responsible for human relations at the Fremont factory, but your office must be in a different state. ”

For those who are able to work from home part-time or full-time, this can be a luxury problem. Tesla factory workers don’t have the privilege of working from home and may have little appreciation for managers who choose not to be on-site full-time. Similarly, teachers, medical staff, retail and service workers mostly work face-to-face. In fact, the Department of Labor says only 7.7% of employees Telecommuting in April, although the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Americans’ Economic Wellbeing, released last month, estimated that a higher percentage of workers (22%) are working entirely from home.

Tom Murphy, a management professor at MIT’s Sloane School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it’s hard to predict what Musk will say and do, and hard to predict what will happen to Tesla, “but over the long term, they will.” Employees vote with their feet and choose to work at companies that give them more flexibility over where and when they work. That’s how markets work: buyers and sellers find people to do business with – in this case, it’s in the labor market.”

“Tesla launches its own local Great Resignation.”

— Nicholas Bloom, professor in the Stanford University School of Economics

There will always be executives who firmly believe workers should be in the office a lot or all of the time, and some companies may choose to work that way, he added. “But I think the tide of history speaks against it. More and more companies will give more and more workers more and more freedom over where they work. Technology, in many cases, makes it possible to be more productive, or just as productive, in a way that is time-efficient and life-friendly for workers.”

So how many workers – at Telsa and elsewhere – would actually disembark? “In response to Musk’s request, nearly 60% of employees will return to the office full-time,” said Nicholas Bloom, a professor in the Stanford University Department of Economics, “but about 7% are likely to quit on the spot, and 30% are actively seeking.” another job.” This is based on his own monthly survey of 2,500 workers.

“Typically, the people who quit are better educated in hot areas like IT and finance, where many other companies offer remote work two to three days a week. So the majority of employees will return, but Tesla is launching its own local Great Resignation,” Bloom added.

Other global surveys suggest that a higher percentage of workers would consider leaving or have already found a new job. However, this also presupposes that they enter a labor market that is still strong. There’s another game-changer that could keep workers sitting: the specter of a recession.

“Employees will vote with their feet and choose to work at companies that give them more flexibility over where and when they work.”

– Tom Murphy, Professor of Management at MIT Sloane School of Management

However, Murphy said there is one key element missing from the working-from-home debate — informal interactions that don’t happen in formally scheduled meetings. “These are things that happen in the hallway or next to the coffee machine. These informal interactions can also be supported online.” Murphy said he is working on his own alternative to Zoom ZM,
and Google Meet GOOG,
– a more intimate video chat called “Mingler” that works with open source software.

Musk isn’t the first CEO to vent. JPM by JPMorgan Chase,
CEO Jamie Dimon told workers at a Wall Street Journal event in May 2021 that remote work “doesn’t work for people who want to rush, doesn’t work for the culture, doesn’t work for ideation. We get a setback when we come back internally, but that’s life.” But Dimon recently acknowledged in the Bank’s last annual report that “working from home is becoming more permanent in American business”.

What Musk tweeted likely reflects what many companies are thinking about working from home and the need to bring employees back into the office, “but most wouldn’t risk taking it as such a blanket statement.” to formulate,” said Vanessa Burbano, associate professor of business administration at Columbia Business School in New York.

“In order not to alienate or drive away workers who value flexibility and remote working,” she added, “companies that want to bring workers back into the office will want to do so by saying to those workers, ‘We hear you , we understand you value this, let’s find a compromise.’”

Ultimately, there’s a valuable lesson for the next CEO like Musk or Dimon who chooses to throw down the gauntlet, Schonthal said. “Create a return to work with your employees, rather than imposing your will or your choice on them,” he said. “When employees feel they have responsibility for making the change or returning to the workplace, it dispels any ‘reaction’. They feel like they have a hand in hand, and that makes them much more receptive to change.” Elon Musk is urging employees to return to the office or quit. The gloves are off: “Tesla launches its own local Great Resignation”

Brian Lowry

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