People Management: Where did Apple go wrong?


A blog by a former Apple employee forces one to question the work culture in today’s organisations.

A few days back, I came across the welcome letter which every new Apple employee receives. Very impressive, I must say. I mean, how many companies write such awesome motivational letters to its new employees? Steve Jobs and Apple have created an aura around the company which makes every tech engineer want to work at Apple.

The welcome letter for a new joinee

In the light of such a high impression which Apple has created for itself, the recent blog post by Ben Farrell, a former Apple employee, stating the reasons why he quite Apple, came as a big surprise. Farrell, who worked in Apple’s Sydney office, made some very strong remarks against Apple’s work culture and the extreme demands made on its employees.

Among other things, Farrell complains about 16 hour work days, endless meetings, lack of respect for personal emergencies like sickness or family issues as well as inconsistent and moody management.

We do not know the facts in this instance, but we have all heard of or maybe worked with managers and organisations that make unreasonable demands on the employees’ time.

As part of a company which has created a solution that helps people become more productive through mindful work techniques instead of brute forcing long hours, such incidents disturb me.

It makes me think — is it a problem with the company’s culture or managers, or are we, as employees, unable to understand the importance of work–life balance? It is probably a combination of all these factors.

Here are a few things that can help build a more engaged workforce that works smart, and not just hard.

Understand your employees’ motivation
The performance of an employee depends a lot on his/her motivation for work. Most of us aspire for a workplace that combines challenging work with opportunities and time for learning and self-development, and where one is paid reasonably well. One may be a new graduate willing to spend long hours at work, or a working mother who needs to pick up her child from the nursery on time. Aligning with the employees’ motivations is vital to keeping them engaged and productive. 

Sirish Deodhar

Communicate well
One of the items which Farrell mentions in the blog post is that his manager was rude with him. Aggressive chats, harassing texts and rude voicemails are all mentioned in the post. While newsletters, chats and memos are good and commonly used ways to communicate with employees, they cannot replace the value of regular face-to-face conversations. Share the organisation’s vision with your team, and don’t forget to appreciate their recent contributions towards those goals.

Show kindness and support work-life balance
Be sensitive to the fact that sometimes personal things can take priority over professional matters. In case of Farrell, he mentions that his absence from a business trip because of the hospitalisation of his wife was regarded as a ‘performance issue’, and he was e-mailed an ‘urgent’ presentation for completion during the time his spouse was hospitalised. Empathy at such times may well be appreciated more than the token ‘thank you’ e-mail.

Cut down on meetings
Farrell felt that the Sunday night meetings, which they had to attend, were harassing. Well, Sunday meetings are surely unusual, but close to 50 per cent of working professionals feel that meetings are one of the biggest time wasters in office. Steve Jobs was known for conducting super productive meetings—with as few people as required, one person responsible for each item on the agenda, and not allowing formal presentations. Managers today are finding that a daily huddle, with less frequent and shorter meetings, are way more effective than those extended sessions.

Offer flexibility
Spending hours and hours stuck in traffic jams to get to work, is brutal. Allow your employees to occasionally work from home as per their convenience. They will not only be happier but also be more productive by saving time and energy on the commute. Back this up with a tool that helps them quantify their effort, and assures them that working from home does not compromise their professional obligations.

Take time off to focus
Apple is known for building disruptive technologies and setting high standards of excellence. How about disrupting the typical work day? Decide on a couple of fixed time slots or even 1–2 days in the week, that are reserved for the ‘In the Zone’ time. This is when the team or even the entire organisation avoids all distractions, e-mails and meetings to focus on the cool stuff or maybe just the important work that has to get done on time.

It is not fair to conclude anything from one person’s blog. But Farrell’s post did make me think how managers and organisations can contribute to engaging the employees and helping them strike a better work–life harmony.

((The author is an HR Consultant. The views expressed in this article are those of the author in his personal capacity.)


  1. Very well explained…. if the manager and the team members understand the needs of each other and respect each one these situations can be avoided.

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