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Inside Uber's Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture (cnbc.com) 192

Excerpts from Mike Isaac's report for the New York Times: Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers' breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat. Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley. Then on Sunday, Susan Fowler, an engineer who left Uber in December, published a blog post about her time at the company. [...] One group appeared immune to internal scrutiny, the current and former employees said. Called the A-Team and composed of a small group of executives who were personally close to Mr. Kalanick, its members were shielded from much accountability over their actions. One member of the A-Team was Emil Michael, senior vice president for business, who was caught up in a public scandal over comments he made in 2014 about digging into the private lives of journalists who opposed the company. Mr. Kalanick defended Mr. Michael, saying he believed Mr. Michael could learn from his mistakes.
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Inside Uber's Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture

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  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:05AM (#53917841)

    loses money

    sex fueled culture

    no definitive product

  • "Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat."

    Now, that's what must be a highly motivating work environment :/

    One must wonder how their hiring process works, i.e. letting such characters through the gates, since recent reports don't paint a pretty picture.
    • Re:motivation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:15AM (#53917891)
      It probably doesn't get highlighted in the hiring process. Most people don't brag about that in interviews - the misbehavior comes out later.

      In most companies, someone pulls a stunt like any of the ones listed here, and they're quickly smacked down, or fired outright (depending on the incident). Judging by the rumors and reports of incidents at Uber, that wasn't the case there. Instead, HR seems to have been told to ignore and protect "high performers" in a penny-wise/pound-foolish policy that leads to the sort of culture like you see described. What happens is that when people don't get punished for the first few things, they start to realize that the normal limits don't apply, and the bad sorts start pushing the envelope. Eventually you get a workplace culture where all sorts of stuff is tolerated, and you wind up with a toxic work environment.
      • Re:motivation (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:44AM (#53918127) Journal

        A homosexual slur is likely to get a very strong reprimand. Threatening to beat someone up or grabbing someone's breasts is almost certainly going to see you escorted off the premises. Uber sounds like one fucking terrible place to work.

      • Re:motivation (Score:4, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @12:33PM (#53918505) Journal

        What happens is that when people don't get punished for the first few things, they start to realize that the normal limits don't apply, and the bad sorts start pushing the envelope.

        You have just described our entire political and economic system. The "bad sorts" have pushed the envelope right to the top..

      • In most companies, someone pulls a stunt like any of the ones listed here, and they're quickly smacked down, or fired outright (depending on the incident).

        Unfortunately, I don't think it's the incident that determines the response, it's the pay grade of the offender.

      • Sorry but this is probably just the culture there. If I had an okay but 'broey' guy or gal in a interview I would probably pass and wait for a normal person.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      From the tone around here these days, I'm sure they have no problem finding idiots that think common decency is beneath them.

    • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:29AM (#53918007) Journal

      "The beatings will continue until morale improves!"

    • "Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat."

      Now, that's what must be a highly motivating work environment :/

      One must wonder how their hiring process works, i.e. letting such characters through the gates, since recent reports don't paint a pretty picture.

      That sounds like the sort of thing where someone is quoting Bon Qui Qui (Mad TV; https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]) and says, "I will cut you!" or something, and the receiving end takes it as a threat.

      Granted: The first rule of public speaking (or just about any kind of presentation) is to Know Your Audience. KYA. Applies to everything. You shouldn't tell jokes to people who may not get them, or may take offense at them...unless you're a stand-up comic. KYA. But that sort of professionalism isn't taug

    • Re:motivation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:55AM (#53918203)

      "Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat."

      Now, that's what must be a highly motivating work environment :/

      One must wonder how their hiring process works, i.e. letting such characters through the gates, since recent reports don't paint a pretty picture.

      It's not the hiring process that's creating the problem, it's senior management. Management would have heard about the incident (or similar ones), and they had the ability to discipline both the manager to grabbed the baseball bat as well as his manager who didn't do anything about it. Instead they let the incident go, perhaps even laughing about it and treating it as an example of a passionate manager motivating his people.

      It's like corruption in Russia, they didn't get that way by hiring corrupt government officials, they got that way by demonstrating, at the very top, that corruption was tolerated. That same baseball bat manager might have been a perfectly decent manager in a different organization, or weeded out if he couldn't play along, but put in an organization that didn't restrain his tendencies he becomes a menace.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        > It's like corruption in Russia,

        That's funny because "Russian corruption" goes back way further than Putin.

      • manager to grabbed the baseball bat

        It doesn't say he actually grabbed a baseball bat. Needs context. I wouldn't be shocked if this were an "aww, man, I'm gonna kill whoever didn't reload the printer, haha!" that when it's time to get someone fired/smeared is reported as "Bob threatened to murder employees who didn't complete tasks properly."

    • Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat.

      Now, that's what must be a highly motivating work environment :/

      One must wonder how their hiring process works, i.e. letting such characters through the gates, since recent reports don't paint a pretty picture.

      Negan will hire anyone, but loves to bash in heads with a baseball bat. One could certainly call "perform well so you do not die" to be a highly-motivated work environment.

  • The four unwritten core values.
  • Goes both ways (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Notabadguy ( 961343 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:31AM (#53918027)

    And my ex-manager (woman) was at a poker game at my house, raving drunk and after losing a hand to me, threw a handful of ceramic poker chips in my face as hard as she could. Not that it surprised anyone because she occasionally comes to work drunk. Not that anyone will do anything about it because she's a she.

    And then there's the manager of our finance department (black woman) who doesn't feel unprofessional screaming at me on the phone and calling me names - while I'm on speaker phone with her - while people in other offices come to listen in amazement. She developed a billing workflow for our entire business unit, and after deploying it at the END OF THE QUARTER with no testing - which caused no end of headaches - I dug through to figure out the errors, drafted a corrective action plan to fix it and sent it to her - which culminated in this legendary phone conversation where she was screaming at me on the phone about how I was too stupid to figure out how to use the workflow...

    I documented all of this, got supporting statements from my colleagues, and went to HR - who basically said that she's untouchable because she's a minority and a woman. I work for GE; not exactly a small-time company. We have all the expected training, HR-enforced compliance...hell, when someone does something that grabs the attention of a regulatory body in a bad way, people get fired. The people involved get fired. The people who weren't involved but heard about it punitive career action for not proactively taking steps to report it up the chain of command. The people who weren't involved and didn't hear about it, but were in a position that they theoretically SHOULD have heard or known about it get formally reprimanded.

    But God help that there be a woman, or for double damage a minority woman...and rules go out the window.

    • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @12:00PM (#53918241)

      Don't meet with your managers in your off-time, at your house, for anything, especially if they're women

      If someone screams at you on the phone hang up

      These are great suggestions

    • I documented all of this, got supporting statements from my colleagues, and went to HR - who basically said that she's untouchable because she's a minority and a woman.

      I don't understand why you say, "Goes both ways". It seems like the same problem. Someone is abusive at work, but getting away with it due to poor management. This isn't "going both ways", it's "going the same way".

      Unless you're just trying to make some kind of "I hate 'political correctness' and affirmative action!" argument, in which case, that's kind of off-topic.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        No. It does go both ways. It's only acknowledged when the victim is acceptable. Otherwise it gets ignored. There's a particular narrative and anything that falls outside of that narrative will be ignored, belittled, or denied.

        This very article is the perfect example of this "narrative curation" in action.

        • Ok, so what's the "other way" that it goes? In the one case, you have "aggressive behavior by an employee goes unchecked because of poor management." What's the other way?

          Are you interpreting one of the examples to be "aggressive behavior by management goes unchecked because of poor employee behavior"? Because then it would make sense to say, "It goes both ways." But I feel like, in both cases, it's a problem of bad management.

    • Maybe they don't read /. and think you're a bad guy :-)

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Ah, unsubstantiated anecdotes, those will do in place of actual data. No no, don't worry about naming the company or anything that might let someone verify or refute your claims, we will just take your word for it.

      FWIW the one time I've personally known anyone to get fired for being drunk it was a black guy. I don't read anything at all into that, it's just a meaningless data point. It does cancel out your anecdote though, so at least we are at neutral buoyancy again.

      • And... way to go, accidentally admitting that you didn't actually read through any of what you claim to refute. He mentioned the fucking company, shithead: GE.
    • I documented all of this, got supporting statements from my colleagues, and went to HR

      Aha, I see your mistake.

      When your "I went to..." statement does not end with "the troublesome's persons direct supervisor", then you have done nothing except cause grief for yourself.

      Companies don't change in response to HR reported threats. They clam up and protect the status quo. Hint: you reporting a problem is not the status quo...

      If instead you report to a manager above the troubled employee, well now you are giving

      • I documented all of this, got supporting statements from my colleagues, and went to HR

        Aha, I see your mistake.

        When your "I went to..." statement does not end with "the troublesome's persons direct supervisor", then you have done nothing except cause grief for yourself.

        Companies don't change in response to HR reported threats. They clam up and protect the status quo. Hint: you reporting a problem is not the status quo...

        If instead you report to a manager above the troubled employee, well now you are giving the company a chance to quietly sweep a problem under the rug... there is nothing large companies and high level executives like more than some good rug sweeping. Heck, they might even lay off her whole division just to be sure!

        Actually, in both cases I did go to the person's direct supervisor.

        In the incident of the poker game at my house, there were 10-15 other people there - all co-workers. The story made it to her boss (my boss' boss) before I talked to him next. He was an empty suit - GE has its share of people who talk a good talk, but don't follow through on anything.

        In the incident of the finance lady, I actually started with my boss. I was so enraged that I wanted to violence this person - I went to talk to my boss, too

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I documented all of this, got supporting statements from my colleagues, and went to HR - who basically said that she's untouchable because she's a minority and a woman.

      Bullshit
      I can tell you want it to due to affirmative action, but I don't believe that they would tell you that, even if it was.

    • Name names or fuck off.
  • His plan is to sexually harass staff until he determines who is sexually harassing the staff!
  • If this story is really true, there is a huge lawsuit in Uber's future... Given that there really hasn't been such a lawsuit yet, I'm a bit hesitant to just accept all this at face value.

    ANY attorney who can pass the bar could win a civil judgment of epic proportions if there is *any* evidence to substantiate that this kind of harassment is a regular happening and the company isn't doing anything to curb it. Now I'm not saying that it's not happening, only that I'm a bit skeptical about such stories comi

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Especially when it would literally cost them nothing to get a lawyer to take this on contingency.

      Your shallow grasp of the cost function of suing a big, madhouse employer (while you're quietly vesting, among other things) leaves pretty much the whole of human history unexplored.

      Of course, if you have no supportive social network within your professional niche worth two nickles to rub together, this is an easy trap to fall into.

      "Oh, the gap in my resume circa 2017? That's when I took off an entire year to s

      • I've been sued by a former employer who I had felt it necessary to quit without notice with a wife that was 9 months pregnant and no job prospects in sight. I think I understand the implications of what I'm saying here. Try to get a job when your last employer is lying about you, basically accusing you of all sorts of unethical behavior and threatening to sue prospective employers if they hire you. It was a bad time, a new baby, medical bills and paying a lawyer, but staying would have been worse so I'm

  • Leaving a bit out (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @12:00PM (#53918243) Journal

    The boob-grabber got fired, as CNBC fails to note (but BusinessInsider does)

    The baseball bat thing is probably a reference to Scarface. Whether a manager actually was referencing the movie when making the "threat" or the person talking to the reporter was using it for inspiration for making shit up, I couldn't say.

    • While I do agree the fact that he was fired is significant, you have to wonder what kind of culture is at the company where he thought this was something he could get away with.
      • While I do agree the fact that he was fired is significant, you have to wonder what kind of culture is at the company where he thought this was something he could get away with.

        Since this was at a "company retreat in Las Vegas", I'm going to guess it had less to do with company culture and more to do with Mr. Grabby drinking too much to worry about consequences.

        • It could also be the woman acting flirty, then blowing up when someone grabs her tits.
          It could also be the woman manipulating someone whose job she wants to get.

          There are lots of possibilities, and the total lack of ability to know what the issues at hand might have been is one reason journalism like this is practically worthless: It sets things in a direction they might not need to go.

      • While I do agree the fact that he was fired is significant, you have to wonder what kind of culture is at the company where he thought this was something he could get away with.

        That's a real work of circular logic there. Even though it was not tolerated, the fact it occurred shows that the company tolerates it.

        • It's not ridiculous to question why someone would do something so egregious. I've never seen a case where someone physically assaulted a coworker in 25 + years of work.
    • by geek ( 5680 )

      Baseball bat would have been from Untouchables not Scarface.

  • "Coffee's for closers only."
  • Comparing my experiences to those people describe in Uber I would say that Uber slipped on discipline to an extent. The muddies are watered however because a lot of people have unreasonably high standards which can be for a number of reasons. However in any companies or large group of people you have incidents like this. It makes it hard to really measure the problem and if it's really that big. I would say however the reported response to serious incidents looks insufficient to me.

    > workers are somet
    • In general I would frown on any employees, but in particular a manager, getting into a shouting match, homophobic slur or otherwise. In a manager I would find this particularly disturbing, because you should really be promoting managers based on leadership qualities, and shouting at your subordinates doesn't display leadership, it displays bullying. As to a specifically homophobic slur, like it or not, we live in a litigatory age, and, as you point out, if the staff member being yelled at were gay, then you

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        In a manager I would find this particularly disturbing, because you should really be promoting managers based on leadership qualities, and shouting at your subordinates doesn't display leadership, it displays bullying.

        Shouty managers were common for Baby Boomers and earlier. There's still a bit of that culture around, and I've had a few shouty managers over the years (mostly guys born before 1960, one born in the 60s). It's an effective way to deliver the emotional message that someone is underperforming and needs to change, when sometimes trying to connect rationally doesn't work. I'm glad it's now mostly faded from current management, but it's a valid approach for leadership (there's a reason drill sergeants and mari

        • A lot if business culture was borrowed from the military and there were a lot of vets from WW2, so a military style tongue-lashing made more sense then.
          • Of course there has been in a lot of research on management styles, some of it predating WWII which suggested that bullying management style may bring about short-term gains, but usually at the cost of a paranoid and low-morale organization which can negatively effect long term performance.

            I've only been yelled at once in my working life, and while it scared the shit out of me to be sure, the only take-away I had was that my boss was a fucking asshole. I could only work as fast as I was going, and because h

            • Yeah I can't imagine working like this either. I've always been lucky enough to have managers that you could rate 'passable' or better.
      • by joboss ( 4453961 )
        I personally find this whole wordcrime stuff a disturbing side of out society. Whether an anti-homosexual slur is bad or not is subjective and I will be loath to support the people who want to make a huge thing out of something based on superstition or because they can. It's deeply disturbing that our society is so childish and the solution often seems to be more childishness. There's an amusing snag. Millions of people, even homosexual people use anti-homosexual slurs. For me it's part of my language and w
        • The problem is that it is a shitty manager who insults any subordinate. If you have a problem with a member of your team, you take them aside and try to deal with it. If it rates disciplinary action, then so be it, but that can still be done respectfully. Either we are adults who can behave with some decorum, or we are unruly children. I won't have unruly children as managers, period. Behave appropriately or you will be demoted. Calling anyone a "fag", get into shouting matches with them, and I will be maki

  • >A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting.

    If this is such a major sin by Uber's standards that it's worth mentioning in a slam piece, then Uber must be far cleaner than their business practices would suggest. It's not like undercutting established taxi service with VC money is in any way "innovation", or "disruption" except in the sense of what George Soros likes to do.

  • Not suprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:00PM (#53919625)

    I had an issue with my manager once (not about sexual harassment, but about an ethic issue since one of the company value is conduct business with uncompromising integrity and professionalism) and I went to the HR. The HR wasn't very helpful and unless I want to make a big issue out of it, there is nothing they are willing to do. The best they could do is if the manager decide to retaliate and there is a paper trail, then they might do something about it. Reading between the line, they infer I should transfer out and that's what I did. I went and talk to other people that dealt with HR before and they schooled me on the true function of HR.

    The purpose of HR is not to help you the individual employee. The true purpose is to protect company from liability and any issues that might result in hurting company's profitability. In Uber's case, the HR did exactly that, protect the company from loosing "high performing" manager since Fowler is just another engineer that they could have replaced. In their view, she is nothing special and would only hurt company's profitability while losing a "high performing employee" that would help the company make money. So they would do anything to help sweep the problem under the rug. I'll bet once the investigation has concluded, they would make an example out of that manager and make some cosmetic changes. Once this blows over, everything will back to the same ol' same ol'.

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