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Top 10 Crazy Facts About Working At Tesla

by Jade Bell
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Tesla is the most valuable automaker in the world. This is incredible considering it was founded in 2003 and released its first car in 2008. Its older and well-established rivals like General Motors Company, Daimler AG and Toyota have been in the business for decades.

However, Tesla is not your traditional carmaker. It actually created its own niche, which puts it somewhere in-between being a carmaker and a tech company. This has made it attractive to jobseekers who want to be part of something new and unique. However, as many have found out, there may be more to what meets the eye.

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10 You do not walk close to Elon Musk’s desk

This is not a written rule but is one many Tesla employees follow to the letter. Elon Musk is so infamous for impulsively firing Tesla workers at random that one manager forbade his workers from walking close to his desk whenever he is around.

Strangely enough, you do not need to commit a blunder to become Elon’s next victim. Answering an unplanned or unclear question wrongly is enough to send you back to the job market.

Some employees talked about one unfortunate engineer who was fired after finding himself at the receiving end of Musk’s tirade sometime in October 2017. The engineer was going about his business at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada when a colleague told him Elon wanted to see him.

The engineer walked up to Elon who shouted at him about something that was not working. The engineer was unsure if Elon was talking about a tool or a robot. Elon Musk ignored his questions and kept using the f-word while asking if he “did it”.

When the engineer asked for further clarification, Elon Musk called him an idiot and told him to “f—k out and don’t come back”. The whole thing did not even last a minute and the engineer never knew why he was fired.[1]

9 You only attend important meetings

Let us face it. Most employees hate meetings, especially when they are long, boring and unnecessary. You are in luck if you work at Tesla where Elon Musk has strict rules on who should attend meetings and how and why meetings are organized.

Elon Musk says meetings at Tesla should be small, brief and infrequent. According to him, a perfect meeting has between four and six attendees. It could be larger but only when necessary. However, in this case, large meetings should be brief and straight to the point.

Tesla employees are permitted to leave meetings the moment they realize their presence is irrelevant. While many employers will cringe at this and consider it rude, Elon Musk says it is actually rude to make an employee attend a meeting where their presence is not required.

So why is Elon Musk so particular about unproductive meetings? It is not about the employee but the business. Elon Musk wants his employees working at all times. So if you are not at a meeting, you had better be at your workstation.[2]

8 You can bypass your manager

Information, in most organizations, flows through the chain of command. That is, it goes from a worker in a department to his manager, who passes it to the manager of another department who then passes it to a worker in that department. Feedback follows the same pattern too.

However, things work a bit differently at Tesla. A worker in one department can bypass his manager and the manager of the other department to speak directly with a worker in that department. This rule also applies to higher-ups including vice-presidents and Elon Musk himself.

This unique communications strategy was revealed in a memo written by Elon Musk and sent to all Tesla employees. In the memo, Elon Musk said the traditional chain of command is slow, dumb and unintelligent. According to him, information must flow quickly and easily if Tesla hopes to become successful.

Talking of success, Elon Musk added that chain of commands only make managers feel more important than they are and encouraged departments to compete against themselves, which is harmful to the success of the company. He added that managers who attempt to control the flow of information would be fired.[3]

7 You may be sued for leaking information

As with many other large tech companies, Tesla employees have a thing for leaking private company information to the press. Tesla is fighting back by threatening leakers with dismissal and lawsuits.

Sometime in May 2019, Tesla security team sent an email to employees revealing they had fired and sued several employees for a range of offences, including sharing production data with journalists and posting private company information and phone numbers on social media.

In the email, the security team added that every worker needed to protect company information from unspecified people who wanted to see Tesla fail. However, it appears Tesla employees do not care since the email warning them against leaking company information was also leaked. That is why you are reading about it anyway.[4]

6 You will receive low salaries

Is Tesla a car company or a tech company? This answer matters a lot especially when we want to compare its salaries to that of similar businesses.

If we consider it a tech company, then its median salary is too low. However, it we categorize it as a car company, its median salary is right in the middle of the auto industry. It is neither too high nor too low even though garbage collectors earn a bit more.

In 2020, Tesla revealed it pays its middle-skilled workers $15 an hour or $47,147 a year. However, this is an overestimation since a $15 an hour salary will be equal to $31,200 a year (if we count using the 40-hour workweek and the 52 weeks in a year). This is lower than the salary of a refuse collector who earns $19.90 an hour or $41,400 a year.[5]

Low wages have been a recurring issue at Tesla. In 2018, the median salary of a Tesla employee was $56,163 a year. This included basic salary, bonuses and stock. In comparison, Ford’s employees earned $64,316 while General Motors workers earned $77,849.

The reality of the Tesla’s low salaries becomes clearer when we compare it to other tech giants like Facebook and Alphabet. Facebook has a median salary of $228,651 while Alphabet has a median salary of $246,804. However, many Tesla employees say they do not mind the low wages. They work at Tesla because of the challenging environment and not the money.[6]

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5 You will work long hours

On November 26, 2018, Elon Musk tweeted “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”. He later sent a follow-up tweet saying, “But if you love what you do, it (mostly) doesn’t feel like work”.[7]

This statement has huge implications, one that only Tesla employees understand. In one sentence, it means Elon Musk expects Tesla’s employees to work overtime, every time. Maybe this was how Tesla arrived at the overestimated salary we talked about in the previous entry.

As any Tesla employee will tell you, everyone works long hours. This includes Elon Musk who sometimes sleeps under desks in the factory. Some employees find working long hours inspiring because it makes them push themselves to their limit. Others however, think it is a clear evidence of terrible management.[8]

4 You get free Red Bull energy drinks

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Tesla raises the standard for overworking employees. A typical shift at Tesla lasts for between 12 and 16 hours. This lasts for the entire week and sometimes, weekends, particularly during tight production deadlines. This leaves many Tesla workers so tired at the end of their shifts that they just stare into empty space as if they were zombies. Employees call this the “Tesla stare”.

So how does Tesla keep employees awake (and turn them into zombies) during long work hours and compulsory weekend shifts? It does that by giving them free cans of Red Bull energy drink of course. They gobble it down to keep them at alert. However, not everyone gets a free can. Some employees say they sometimes buy their own drinks.[9]

3 You may pass out from stress

Tesla’s long working hours, weekend shifts, compulsory overtime and strict deadlines leaves its workers stressed. Hundreds have experienced seizures, chest pains and shortness of breath while working. Some even faint, falling on their faces and hitting their heads on the floor so hard that they end up with cuts.

As of 2017, ambulances occasionally drove into Tesla factories to transport injured workers to a hospital. However, Tesla’s managers (who are often under pressure) never stopped the assembly lines to attend to injured people. They just told other employees to keep working while the injured person remained on the floor.[10]

2 You cannot form or join a union

Tesla employees are restricted from forming or joining a union. While this is not official Tesla policy, Tesla’s behavior indicates it does not want its workers to unionize.

For instance, on May 21, 2018, Elon Musk sent this tweet, indicating employees who unionized would lose their stock options: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”[11]

The tweet was just one of Tesla’s many anti-union activities. It has threatened pro-union employees, fired workers for pro-union activities, stopped workers from distributing pro-union flyers to other workers and enforced a dress code to stop employees from wearing clothing with pro-union insignia.[12]

1 You can be fired without warning

Tesla is infamous for firing its workers without warning. You could be working hard one moment and will be told your services are no longer needed the next. There is usually no hint that you are about to be laid off or that someone else on your team has been laid off.

For instance, one engineer realized his manager had been fired when he did not show up for a meeting.

Many layoffs supposedly begin as meetings and conferences. A former salesperson in Tesla’s energy division said she received an email at 1 a.m., asking her and her team to attend a video conference later that day. She was among the 250 people fired during the meeting. The layoff was indiscriminate since it affected everyone including those who met their sales quotas.

Another employee who worked on the vehicle delivery team was fired an hour after arriving work on a Monday morning. He knew something was off when three managers walked in and called a colleague into the conference room. It was unusual to see three managers together.

He only realized there was a problem when the colleague packed her stuff and left the room. He thought she was laid off for underperforming until he was invited into the room and told he was being laid off because his position was abolished. No one had told him anything about this earlier.[13]

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fact checked by Jamie Frater