How does Elon Musk inspire his employees even though he makes them work long hours? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Josh Boehm, Former SpaceX employee - Co-Founder of Cyph.com:
"How does Elon Musk inspire employees even though he makes them work long hours?"
This seems to be a common misconception about the culture at SpaceX -- one even I had before I worked there. The thing is, no one, especially not Elon, is forcing you to work long hours. SpaceX just hires self-driven people who are extremely passionate about the mission. Long hours is just usually what it takes to get the job done, especially if you're working with limited resources.
Even while SpaceX hires those who don't really need extra encouragement, there were lots of great perks to entice you to stay at the office longer and enjoy coming to work more, like free dinners, coffee and froyo, an in-office masseuse, and monthly little celebrations with free goodies. Plus the environment of working in a rocket factory is amazing on its own. We could watch camera feeds of the factory floor from our desks and we're encouraged to explore.
We'd frequently see celebrities getting tours; for example, I saw Jennifer Aniston having lunch with Elon at the table across from me, ran into Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the bathroom, and had other people like Will Smith and Morgan Freeman come through the factory while I was working. The more often you'd be at the office the more likely you'd be around when someone cool was visiting. Some would also come by to give private talks, like Jeremy Edberg (co-founder of Reddit) and George Takei (Oh my...). Plus Elon would give encouraging speeches to the company, do the same in emails, and everyone gathers outside of mission control for the launches, which is an amazing experience to be a part of when you've all been working your butts off for that moment. Then of course there were amazing company outings and holiday parties. We'd celebrate at local bars on the company card, and seeing movies like Gravity and The Martian is a lot more fun when SpaceX buys out all the tickets and you watch with a bunch of smart-asses who are actually rocket scientists!
That team culture and environment really helps as a motivator as well, kind of like working out in a group instead of at home by yourself. You don't want to let anyone down and those who work hard are respected. The very open office space contributes to this I think, since you see everyone else working hard and know they see you too. We would sometimes joke and say, "What're you, working part time?", when someone was leaving "early" at like 7 or had only put in a 50-60 hour week. It was never entirely dead or too lonely around the office either, since a bunch of people worked late and the factory floor never really shuts down.
So I frequently did work 12+ hour days and pulled many all-nighters at the office, but again, this wasn't because I was forced to, but because I loved my work and saw the value I was bringing to the team. I technically reported to the CIO, but was essentially self-managed like many others there at the time. A phrase we threw around a lot was, "You are your own slave driver."
Burnout is real, though, and passion can only take you so far. There was pretty high turnover for people that didn't work well in that environment, and some people had to take short sabbaticals and come back later. We had some team meetings about work-life balance, and while I had to be on call and available most of the time to test and deploy hotfixes, SpaceX was always very flexible with me and let me work remotely when possible and manage my own schedule. I was given more responsibility and freedom there than any other company I had worked for, which ultimately became invaluable experience for running my startup company Cyph after leaving.
Having heard stories and rumours before I started there, I was worried about the long work hours, but the truth is that time flew by because it was challenging, interesting, and rewarding work. They were also only focused on results, giving me the freedom and creativity to work how I want. Now I'm sure if someone wasn't getting their job done or actually putting in part time hours it'd be an issue, but from my experience that would never be the bottleneck for me or any of the people I worked with.
"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
- Quote of unknown origin (commonly misattributed to Confucius).
Just as an addendum, the culture between departments at SpaceX varies. I know for some contractors and people on the factory floor, their hours were more closely monitored and tracked. Also, I am only writing about my experience working there -- none of the preceding should be interpreted as a statement from SpaceX.