Why tech companies are bad for their employees

Tech companies have long been held as a pinnacle of best human resources practices. It’s just not the truth.

The book “Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead” is supposed to be a best seller, even when it already aims at transforming yourself, instead at only helping you to design a good work experience. Still, it’s mainly a PR operation, with no more link to reality than the Potemkine villages of USSR.

Just remember for example that most tech companies, including Google, signed no-poaching agreements with peer companies not to hire from one another. For this, they were sued by the DOJ and had to deal with a class action from their own workers.

The truth is that working in the tech sector is generally difficult. The job in itself is rather hard. Even is there are a lot positions, the competition spirit is real. Money is too often seen as the main metrics for success. As structures grow, organisation politics become more important than actual performance.

It’s also very difficult to do what you want and many people end up complaining that they’re unhappy. As explained Jean-Louis Gassée, it’s Microsoft’s human resources culture that drove away talent.

Discrimination is real, but as experienced by Ellen Pao who brought up a lawsuit and lost, companies have enough money to fight back. To be true, she even advises employees to not communicate their issues to their HR department.

The truth is that humans resources is not focused on the employees. It’s focused on the company. It has to.

Labour Law is focused on the employee. It might sound like old fashioned but it’s the truth. As of today, even Silicon Valley workers want more work regulation of the tech industry. Some even think they should go back to unions.

And why not? The situation is even worse when looking outside the strict limits of the tech sector, with more than 1 million people in the Bay Area on low-wage jobs with only $18 an hour. Not mentioning that black and Latino workers are 58% of the cleaners, bus drivers, caterers and other subcontractors working for big tech firms, but only 10% of the core tech workforce.

Silicon Valley Rising or the Teamsters union managed to achieve some success at least, but high tech workers are too infused with naive libertarianism and darwinian liberalism to think that getting together could help them. There certainly is a new kind of labor movement, but it’s not there yet.

It’s logical. Individualism plays a central role in the Silicon Valley Ideology, not just in the way its members run their enterprises, but also in their view of society.

Also at the end of the day, once you’ve managed to get past work regulations, it’s cheaper to pay a human than to design a robot for driving or making deliveries. And the last thing the entrepreneurs of the gig economy want is trade unions enforcing collective bargaining, bringing legal pressure to protect workers’ rights and generally putting sand in the gears of disruptive “innovation”.

It will come at no suprise that Silicon Valley’s leaders claim to be liberal with one big exception: They are deeply suspicious of the government’s efforts to regulate business, especially when it comes to labor.

Go figure.

Written by

A Lawyer in Paris, and a former General Secretary of the French National Digital Council, I work in tech, media, public policy. These opinions are my own.

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