SpaceX HR Guy Sets Up, Knocks Down Strawman

SpaceX Vice President of Human Resources Brian Bjelde was on Reddit doing an Ask Me Anything session yesterday. He provided a textbook example of how to avoid answering an awkward question by simply answering another one.

Q: Historically, SpaceX has had a reputation for overworking (50+ hours/week), setting aggressive(unrealistic) goals/projects, and a well above industry average turnover rate. As VP of HR, how have/are you working on fixing this reputation?

Bjelde: We recruit people who are incredibly driven by our mission, but it’s a myth that most of our employees are working 100 or even 80 hour weeks on a regular basis. Sometimes you have incredibly tight schedules that you need to keep, and that just goes along with launching rockets. But we want our employees to be productive over the long term and that means working at a pace that’s sustainable. We encourage employees to pace themselves, and our managers pay close attention to whether people are driving themselves too hard for long periods. This is one of the biggest myths I hear about working at SpaceX, so I always want to knock this idea down!

Now, note what the questioner asked (50+ hours/week) and how Bjelde chose to answer it (80-100/week).  I know that the former is accurate; I’ve heard work weeks ranging from a low of 50 or 60 hours to a high of 80 hours per week. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about 80 to 100 hours per week. Also, note how he qualified the “myth” as being that “most of our employees” work those types of hours.

Bjelde 1, Strawman 0.

Not everyone on Reddit was buying this explanation, either. Here’s a couple of more questions on the subject that Bjelde chose not to answer. The second one appears to have come from someone inside SpaceX.

Q: 7 days a week seem pretty typical answers when I’ve asked employees how much they work. Is 70 hours a week a “myth” as well? Is everyone I talk to lying?

FYI, I dont think working your employees like this is wrong necessarily. They are changing the world and paying to do it with their free time. Perfectly acceptable IMO

Q: So then….60-70 hours a week? Sure any one week up to a huge deadline and fine. But I’m still regularly seeing 50-60hrs as the de facto norm every week reported around here. That is burnout city as far as I’m concerned.

I would also note that SpaceX has been sued by former workers who say they were denied breaks required by laws by the very managers whom Bjelde says pay close attention to their subordinates.

Bjelde also answered the question about turnover.

Q: SpaceX was attributed to having a relatively high turnover rate of its employees. Do you still have issues with the retention rates of employees?

Bjelde: Our turnover rates are below average for the industry. We have lots of employees, like me, who have been here more than 10 years and have made a fantastic career with SpaceX! Getting to Mars is a long term mission so we seek to attract employees, and retain them, for the long term.

I’m not sure I buy this claim, either. It’s rather vague (below average for industry, what does that mean?) and it contradicts everything I’ve heard about the place. I’d love to see some actual data on this point.

So, on Reddit, I guess you can ask him anything. But, the answers you get may differ from those given by folks lower down on the org chart.