Tesla's Anti-Employee Handbook

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree February 16, 2022

While researching the revealing (and mostly boring) world of employee handbooks, I came across Tesla's "Anti-Handbook Handbook," which is surely one of the more unconventional ones. Its tone and style are as informal as you might expect from a company led by Elon Musk. The message it conveys, however, is as old-fashioned as the outdated car industry Tesla is trying to beat.

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The title certainly sparks curiosity: The Anti-Handbook Handbook. And the start is promising too:

"We're Tesla. We're changing the world. We're willing to rethink everything. We're a high tech company unlike any other high tech company. We're a car company unlike any other car company. We're different and we like it that way. Being different allows us to do what no one else is doing; to do what others tell us is impossible."

Okay. So far, so pretty good.

"If you're looking for a traditional employee handbook filled with policies and rules, you won't find one. Policies and rules tell you where the bottom is — they tell you how poorly you can perform before you get shown the door. That's not us."

That sounds pretty damn good too.

Unfortunately, the rest of the document contradicts most of what you've just read. Instead of an anti-handbook handbook, it turns out to be more of an anti-employee handbook. Whoops.

Tesla's Anti-Handbook Handbook is as old-fashioned as the outdated car industry Tesla tries to beat.
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Welcome to kindergarten

Under the 'tardiness' section, the handbook reads as follows:

"'You're tardy' is something kids are told in school. This isn't school. Plan to be here on time, ready to start work when you're scheduled. Traffic accidents happen, we get that but they don't happen every Monday during football season."

You know what? "Be here on time, ready to start work when you're scheduled" and the awfully patronizing tone both sound pretty much like school to me.

And it doesn't stop there.

"Our assumption will be that if you don't call and don't show up for work, you're a jerk. You better have a really good reason for not letting us know why you didn't come in or you're out of here. One time is enough."

"[...] If you do something stupid, depending on the circumstances you may be coached and given another chance or you may be asked to leave. We can't afford to waste our time dealing with stupid stuff when we have so many important things to get done."

Oh, and when you are sick, you're told to use your accrued Paid Time Off. Don't have it? Well shit, that's too bad for you!

At the end of the employee policy handbook, you can tell the people who wrote it were clearly looking for a more positive vibe:

"Make sure you're having fun at work — meet new friends, push yourself in new ways, try new things. If you aren't having fun at some level, you'll be unhappy. We don't want that. We want you to work hard, love what you do, and have fun."

Sure, this is clearly all about having a good load of fun at Tesla!

Tesla Anti-Handbook Handbook by Insider Inc.

Moral of the story

At the conclusion of the document, we encounter the one paragraph that should have been the only message in the handbook :

"[...] just behave like the sort of person you want as your co-worker. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Tesla must be the kind of company where people look forward to coming to work in the morning. Life is too short for anything else."

It's good they put this under the "moral of the story" heading, because, well, it was kind of hard to derive that from the condescending paragraphs before.

Such a shame that most of what's being conveyed in the 4-page employee handbook ruins the powerful beginning and end. A humble suggestion to Tesla: go ahead and ditch 90% of the document.

I'm sure they'll get right to it.

If you want to explore more humane ways of running a business, check out our 6-week course in which you'll learn all about 5 of the world's most human-centered companies. For more information click here.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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