Rarely does an Apple employee leave the Jobsian cult and bad-mouth their former leaders. But when they do, we learn that Apple is business built on long-hours and abuse. These recent tales from two former managers make the company sound a lot worse.
While reminiscing on the Debug 47 podcast, former Apple directors Nitin Ganatra and Don Melton dished on all the drawbacks of working at the world's wealthiest corporation: having to work until late into the night, never being able to take real vacations, and being expected to respond to email instantly at all hours.
According to Melton, "Sunday is a work night for everybody at Apple." Employees are expected to be sitting at their computer, ready to quickly respond to emails from executives getting ready for Monday meetings. Breaks only come when the executives' favorite television shows are airing.
This was especially worse after The Sopranos ended because for a while there, you could count on the hour that The Sopranos was on that Scott [Forstall] wouldn't bug you 'cause he was watching The Sopranos. And that was your reprieve. You could go to the bathroom, you could have a conversation with your family, you know, whatever. But after that—
And Scott was a late-night kind of guy. He was not a morning guy at all. You were basically on until, like, 2 o'clock in the morning.
The late hours didn't just happen on Sundays. Emails are allegedly sent out in the wee hours of the morning on a regular basis.
You just know that there's this firehose of emails that are just going out at 2:45 in the morning and there are VPs or executive VPs who are scrambling to get answers. And that was just week after week, month after month, over the years.
Melton said it wasn't just managers who carried this late-night burden. All employees are expected to respond to emails "promptly" no matter what the hour, and managers would get "a little annoyed at them" if they failed to do so.
The culture of slavish devotion to the job comes from the top, where executives are said to sleep for just a few hours a night:
And by the way, when you hear the so-called apocryphal stories about Tim Cook coming to work in the wee hours and staying late, it's not just some PR person telling you stories to make you think that Apple executives work really hard like that. They really do that. I mean, these people are nuts. They're just, they are there all the time. I know that for Bertrand, certainly when he was there, you would never know what time of the day or night you would get email from that man.
Employees of the email-obsessed company are expected to regularly check messages while on vacations. "You do feel like a slacker if you only check it four times," Ganatra explained. Then Melton described a situation of a family vacationing in France, with kids begging to see the sights while their parent had to answer work emails.
Naturally, the conversation drifted towards their former boss's attitudes. And like an escaped captive suffering from Stockholm syndrome, Melton assures us that they're not monsters:
And I have also tried to explain to people by using analogy, 'cause they ask, "What's it like being around Steve and Avie [Tevanian] and Bertrand and Scott and Phil [Schiller] and Tim [Cook]?"
And I said it's a lot like working in a nuclear power plant, but you don't get one of those protective suits. It's a lot of radiation and you either learn to survive it or you die. 'Cause they're not mean people, they're not spiteful people, they're not trying to trip you up, They're just very intense and, you know, things emanate from them, right?
Apple's heads aren't "mean," but they are the types of guys that will slowly give you radiation poisoning.