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Published on Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Uber is Under Fire in the HR World

Author: Heather Nezich

Uber has been in the news a lot lately regarding its meritocracy practices and competitive culture.  Although this mentality has brought them from a mere start-up to a $68 billion company, their corporate image is being bruised and it’s leaving a black mark on former employees’ resumes.

The “Uber way” is described as a take no prisoners, win at any cost mentality.  In their corporate values they promote “meritocracy and toe-stepping.”  This corporate culture is being blamed for several recent PR disasters in the press, which is tainting the brand among customers, investors, regulators, and employers.

One former “Uberversity” attendee recently described his experience at the 3-day new employee orientation program.  He was presented with a scenario:  “Uber has learned that a rival company is launching an equivalent to UberPool (the company's carpooling service) in four weeks. It's impossible for Uber to beat them to market with a functional and reliable carpool service. What should the company do?”  The correct answer, which is what Uber actually did, was to create an incomplete solution that was not market ready and take it to market in order to beat the competitor.  Uber stated that the solution kept in line with one of their core values, which is to “always be hustling.”  Attendees that proposed taking more time to create a market-ready solution rather than rushing and presenting a poor product were told “that’s not the Uber way.”

Another former employee, Susan Fowler, recently described sexual harassment and age discrimination in a blog post.  As a result, Uber has launched an investigation being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and attorney Tammy Albarran.  Fowler stated in her blog that management dismissed her sexual-harassment complaints because the accused employee was a star performer.  She stated that, “In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization.  It seemed like every manger was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job.” Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick describes the behavior she details as “abhorrent” and says it is the first he has heard of it.

Yet another former Uber employee, Keala Lusk, wrote on Medium that she saw “malicious fights for power, interns repeatedly putting in over 100 hours a week but only getting paid for 40, discrimination against women, and prejudice against the transgender community.”

Stories like these are damaging Uber’s reputation and placing doubt in employers’ minds about hiring former employees of Uber.  Recruiters are wary of the “hustle-oriented” culture these former employees come from.  Former employees are being forced to defend themselves and make it clear that they can be a team player and are not “jerks.”  Leslie Miley, a Silicon Valley veteran, stated, “To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to work with someone who did well in that environment.  If you did well in that environment upholding those values, I probably don’t want to work with you.”  He stated that he won’t rule out a candidate based on their work history at Uber, but he will ask pointed questions about how the person would handle workplace issues.

Research has found that a relentless meritocracy system can backfire, leaving employees feeling unfairly treated.  Management experts say that left unchecked, systems like these can be damaging workplaces where employees act more like competitors than colleagues, and management tends to ignore inherent biases.  Jonathan Bernstein, the president of Bernstein Crisis Management, said Uber needs a total "paradigm shift" soon before it ends up on the wrong side of Silicon Valley's own “Hobbesian” jungle.


Sources: Wall Street Journal, businessinsider.com


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