Chaos erupted further when hordes of employees left Twitter on November 17 following Elon Musk’s ironclad demands. He gave workers until 5 p.m. to decide whether to quit or stay and work “long hours at high intensity.” Meanwhile, major corporations like CBS have suspended their Twitter accounts due to the turbulent takeover and the uncertainty of their future. Musk has employed the kind of repressive leadership tactics that have led to post-pandemic workplace disruption — the opposite of what experts are calling for to clean up workplace chaos and heal the mental health problems caused by the pandemic.
Workplace leadership experts claim that Musk’s leadership style so far has been headed in the wrong direction. in one recent Forbes.com interviewJenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and author of Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose for Growth and Impact, Musk told me that Musk treats people like collateral damage, not people, and forgets basic human decency in the way he’s handling the layoffs. Lim’s assessment raises the question of what effects his inhuman behavior will have on the already ailing mental health of employees. Others worry that copycat executives are copying Musk’s tactics to get more bang for their buck at the expense of employee mental health.
The world’s richest man’s recent return-to-the-office strategy is at odds with so many other executives who also insist remote work is the way of the future and will stay here. Steve Black, Chief Strategy Officer of Topia, claims the full in-office policy is a dangerous talent strategy for other companies. “Elon Musk requiring employees to return to the office full-time is a dangerous talent strategy as it will likely result in many employees leaving for more flexible jobs,” Black said. “In our last one Customize poll, we found that 65% of employees who are forced to go back to the office full-time say they are more likely to look for a new job; 46% are attracted to jobs that focus on employee well-being and 42% want the ability to work from home whenever they want. Musk goes directly against both of these factors by taking away all flexibility and forcing a minimum of 40 hours per week.”
Musk went in the wrong direction
If a motorist drove the wrong way on a one-way street, they would be stopped by pedestrians. If a leader is leading a large organization in the wrong direction, people in the know would tag him before he collapses and burns. What follows are actions that experts say business leaders must take in 2023 to restore post-pandemic stability to the workplace — all of which Musk is doing in turn.
- Mental safety for employees. According to Jennie Yang, Vice President for People and Culture at 15Five, leaders need to consider the competencies they want to see in their managers and employees, such as resilience, self-direction, and adaptation to ambiguity. “To survive a recession, the psychological security of employees will be crucial in the next year, so managers in particular need skills to deal with internal communication,” she said, adding that healing trauma in toxic workplaces and improving the Soft skills are required for management when difficult economic times are essential. “Key competencies to focus on include strong mental and emotional well-being and the ability to relate to others.”
- Increasing team productivity without burnout. Tim Harsch, CEO and co-founder of Euler, told me that the biggest challenge for leaders in 2023 will be managing economic uncertainty and increasing team productivity without burning out teams. “This requires clear, honest communication across the organization and establishing high-quality key performance indicators (KPIs) that everyone within the teams subscribe to,” he said.
- Creation of a stable job. David Hassell, CEO and co-founder of 15Five, agrees business leaders need to be safe in the face of uncertainty in 2023. When business leaders rise to the occasion and lead through uncertainty, they ultimately create a positive workplace in which their people can thrive, Hassell told me, predicting that companies will redouble their executive and management education and that 9th -to-5 job is gone, adding: “Creating a stable workplace that anchors employee trust and loyalty is vital. This is especially important in a remote or hybrid work environment. Employees who feel a sense of stability, leadership support, work purpose, and connection to others—all of which leadership needs to drive—are less likely to retire or quietly quit in the next year.”
A better way to make difficult decisions
Elon Musk’s tactics are diametrically opposed to what evidence-based research and expert opinion recommend. Here are the ingredients top executives say are needed to clean up the devastation in a post-pandemic workplace:
- Gallup insists that a company’s most important asset is its people.
- TalentLMS reported that 78% of employees would like more support from the workplace.
- A research corpus shows that empathy is the most important leadership skill, especially in times of crisis.
- Experts say leaders must handle stability and certainty during economic uncertainty, not create more confusion and disruption.
Still, many ill-informed executives will identify with Musk’s ruthless tactics and follow in his footsteps. Steve Black at Topia points out that this is a dangerous path for other companies. Twitter and Tesla were strong, well-known brands. Black points out that most brands do not belong to the same category. Therein lies the danger, he warns, warning companies: “Should these brands follow Musk’s lead, they will not be able to attract and retain enough top talent for a full in-office mandate to be a valid strategy.” Ultimately, a “Tesla makes it, so we can” strategy would be highly risky for most companies.”
The best way for leaders to remain true to company culture when confronted with the difficult decisions Elon Musk faces is to reverse emotionless leadership decisions. “When leaders make these tough decisions, it’s tempting to take the emotion out of it,” Jenn Lim told me. “Psychologically, it can be a salve to calm a guilty conscience. But conscious leaders go the opposite way. During Covid, these leaders put aside titles and office politics and donned their empathy hats, knowing what was at stake when they affected livelihoods. As you make these decisions, keep your company’s values and purpose close by and consider them. Leadership should start with that why These decisions are made and then how they level themselves with the values and the purpose of the company. When upheld, an organization’s true character has an opportunity to show its humanity.”