A Debrief on Apple: Why I Wrote the Apple Article & The Response

This article is a follow-up post from the original article – ‘I Quit: What Really Goes on at Apple’ – posted here

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this, that I wrote a blog last week about why I quit Apple. In this article I covered the main themes that I deemed as a toxic culture of bullying, harassment and manufactured unnecessary pressure that seemed to serve no productive purpose. I’m not going to go in to more detail here, however I wanted to debrief about why I wrote this article and touch on the response I’ve had.

For a company as large as Apple, I have to say how surprised I am at the attention this article has received across global media. I’ve never Googled myself in the past, but did the other night and was shocked at just how far across the cyber world this article has reached. It’s been translated in to German, French, Chinese, and more. Surely I’m not the first Apple employee to disclose the nature of the Apple culture in light of leaving the company? However it seems that this is indeed the case. Some articles refer to a ‘trend of Apple employees speaking out upon leaving’, however they don’t back up this claim.

Upon reading other articles, journalists speak of their ‘shock’ at me ‘going on the record’ about my time there, which really confuses and frustrates me. Their language drips of passive awe of this ‘tech giant’, and a dangerous sub-text of positioning Apple the same as a religious organisation that has the same grip on us as the church did back in the middle ages. I feel as if I’ve just quit Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory “where nobody’s ever seen going in and nobody’s ever seen going out” and now everyone is hungry for what really goes on ‘inside’. Some have even mentioned NDAs as the reason for no one speaking out. However I’m not giving away company secrets here, I’m simply saying that in my experience it’s a shitty workplace.

In my opinion, Apple does a great job at de-motivating individuals and crushing people’s self-esteem. The constant ‘dog and pony show’ is hard to keep up with and speaking against management receives tailored and subtle retaliation that infects even the most level-headed mind and leaves you questioning your own abilities, confidence and skill, no matter how experienced you are. I believe that a lot of people leave Apple, feeling so down following this soul-sucking experience that they no longer feel they have a voice to speak out, nor do they feel they even deserve to speak out. Instead, they feel as if they have failed.

Since writing my article I’ve received several thousand personal emails from current and ex-Apple employees thanking me for speaking out and telling me their very personal stories of almost identical experiences. Firstly, I thank these people for your emails of support and thank them for sharing their stories, however the question that needs to be asked is, why is it no one speaks out publicly?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s difficult. The last week has been incredibly tough. However I am still in  shock that in this day and age of social media – no one else has taken to the air waves.

Anyway given the media attention and thousands of questions I received, I wanted to clarify a few things about why I wrote this article.

Firstly I am not a “disgruntled employee” I’m simply shocked and disappointed, my resignation came as a shock to my colleagues and I am not writing of my experience from a soap box of angst. I severed my ties with Apple in a moment of positive self-preservation from my own mental and physical well-being, as well as the fact that we are taught from a very young age to never tolerate bullies. So I wrote this article for two reasons:

1. I believe that a company as large and influential as Apple has great social responsibility. If an organisation claims to ‘think different’, understand people, care for its workers and make the world a better place, then they should be held accountable by their customers and their employees. Their own founder – Jobs – speaks words of wisdom about not accepting others negativity and dogma, exactly what I experienced. I feel people should be cautious of such large organisations that pull on our emotional consumer heart-strings and that they should not be glorified in the way they are. Apple is simply a company and if they had supported me when I needed it and showed they cared for my well-being and addressed my valid concerns like a normal company, I may still be there, even with the long hours and numerous meetings. Something about mutual respect tends to motivate an individual to put in the hard yards. When this respect and trust is absent, long hours become non-productive and burn you out. However emotional and physical well-being as well as family life must come first in my opinion, and my experiences at Apple were bleeding in to my personal life which was a sign for me to cut ties. I’m not stupid – I know that other employees enjoy their time at Apple – however I should never have been exposed to what I was exposed to which is what I’m writing about.

2. I want to encourage people to stand up against bullying, harassment and intimidation. Don’t normalise this behaviour or dismiss it as ‘corporate’ or ‘normal in the tech industry’. Human beings deserve to be treated like human beings and given respect no matter what rung of the corporate ladder they cling from. I believe in honesty, transparency and mutual trust in the workplace and I did not get that from Apple and, from what I’ve read from my readers, neither do thousands of others who are trapped in toxic workplaces with mind-game playing managers yielding giant egos.

These two reasons alone are why I wrote this article. I’m saddened that so many others have been or are going through the same situation, but I’m even more saddened that no one has spoken up. I don’t blame the individuals experiencing the bullying for not speaking up, I blame the organisations for successfully killing people’s’ self-esteem to the point where they’re so down, they can’t even recognise and acknowledge text-book bullying, harassment and intimidation and even blame themselves.

I personally won’t be buying the Apple Watch, but I wish Apple all the best. I did work with some managers there I respect and I do have friends there, most of whom will probably never speak to me again because I’ve spoken my mind… Sad.

I do believe Apple need to change the way they treat employees and I predict that if they don’t, this problem won’t go away for them. They need to innovate internally just like they do with their products or they will become entrenched in business models and processes that will fast become outdated as the company refuses to change how they operate on the inside.

Thanks to everyone who wrote to me for your support – you’ve made my week.

Regards,

Ben Farrell
Not a ‘disgruntled employee’, not ‘on a rant’, not ‘sacked’, not a ‘pussy’, just some bloke who believes in standing up for what you believe in and not compromising your own values and beliefs no matter what the situation and circumstance or how large the organisation.

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23 thoughts on “A Debrief on Apple: Why I Wrote the Apple Article & The Response

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for reading – you’re right, of course the worlds most successful Tech Company should be ‘hard’. However that’s not at all what I’m writing about here. I’m not writing about Apple being ‘hard’ or ‘high pressure’, I’m writing about a negative culture that is the opposite to what they preach and a culture I experienced which in my opinion isn’t actually ‘hard’ at all, it’s just ridiculous and stupid because… It’s Apple and well, they can be, so they choose to be, in detriment to their own success.

      1. Everything beautiful in life is ugly in the inside. I think you should have just understood that joining a “cultist” company meant sacrificing creative power if you didn’t sign up for a creative role. And even then imagine how crazy it is to design their icons… They are working with incredible focus.

      2. Thanks for your input Daniel but I’m afraid that I don’t agree. Perhaps we’re not calibrated on what a ‘creative role’ is, however I felt my job of travelling the globe and teaching people how to better engage with other people from a myriad of different cultures (most who speak English as a second language) & solve their problems should have been at least as creative as ‘designing icons’. You obviously have a respect for Apple, which I also respect. However I don’t agree that ‘incredible focus’ is high on the agenda from what I’ve witnessed. It’s plain rejection or approval. I also don’t believe that everything beautiful in life is ugly. I respect your view, but for me I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning if I truly believed that everything that I deemed beautiful in life is actually ugly on the inside. I don’t judge others for what they believe but from what I’ve seen, creativity in Apple is a dictated not invented which in my opinion defeats the entire definition of creativity itself and can’t be sustained in such a model.

    2. One only need experience their malfunctioning OS releases (Yosemite is almost done with and still doesn’t properly recognise the iMac SD card reader. Will the new OS be any better, or just introduce a whole new range of bugs that will never be fixed?) to understand that whatever happens inside the walls of Apple, it is not entirely productive and certainly not customer-focussed. But, clearly, if they continue to pocket billions form sales, the culture is unlikely to change.

    3. Hard in the sense where people bully you? That’s not hard, that’s disrespect. I don’t think it should be hard working anywhere. Working at a top company should be fun, not hard.

      1. Couldn’t agree more Sakiski! You would think that a rich, successful and iconic brand would invest in an environment that natures employees! The last thing you would expect is bullying! Thanks for your comment!

      2. We ‘talked’ about it but never agreed. I’m not sure how you’ve concluded I wasn’t in a ‘good division’ when what I’ve written about here is a deep rooted culture. I’ve also received thousands of emails from readers with similar stories across the organisation. Your naive comments here will always draw attention. Please don’t refer to any discussion with me when making your sweeping generalisations. We are by no means aligned.

  1. There’s a difference between hard and counter-productive. As someone who has also come from a contact centre background, contact centres need to be everything to everyone who calls in. That’s a tall order, and in Australia, we love to savage customer service from pretty much anyone who doesn’t meet our high level of expectations. Whilst it’s not creativity on the same externally visible perspective as product owners, there’s a need to be a differentiator, and a leader in the industry. I’ve struggled to get contact centres away from being robots, amongst companies who would rather have script-reading monkeys than people who can think.
    Apple seems to hire these sorts of roles internally (given what I see on LinkedIn) and I can only assume they wanted Ben to bring something outside of Apple in, but if all they want is a yes-man, then I hope their brand is enough to carry them.

    1. Thanks call centre expert for your insight. People underestimate the fact that call centres are always the voice of a brand and you only get one shot at first impressions. Due to Apple’s reputation, customers already have an inflated set of expectations when they call in, and expect much more than if they were calling their local telco or ISP, so to meet those expectations with a call centre footprint that spans the globe, requires innovation and creativity. But, like any good production, a lot of people don’t see what happens behind the scenes and instead focus on the UI that’s in their face every day as the ‘creative’ aspect.

  2. Hello Ben,
    I am a fellow writer and traveler and echo many of your sentiments about travel offering a gift of discovering people, places and themes if you’re open to the learning opp. I heard about your post from some tech workers in the Silicon Valley. Obviously the blog offered enough of a truism to warrant their comments over beers.

    I also echo your sentiments about workplace bullying; especially your question of “why is it no one speaks out publicly?” Having been subjected to bullying for four years with a U.S. company (outside of CA), I completely understand your frustration for being a minority in speaking up. In my scenario (not at apple, but elsewhere), I found myself taking on this battle alone while those that agreed with me behind closed doors would shy away when asked for their feedback on their experiences. While it was an incredibly difficult situation to navigate, I would do the same again today. And for those who chose to keep their mouths’ closed, shame on them.

    Bullying does nothing more than feed the ego of the boss that lashes out (temporarily at least) and decreases productivity (based on real research). Why companies would shoot themselves in the foot for decreased morale and productivity is lost on me.

    The only reason I could possibly think that companies allow this behavior is there are no laws in the U.S. that protect employees from bullying according to industry experts at http://www.workplacebullying.org. That, and it’s easier to provide lip service about a pseudo workplace culture than to make the difficult changes for the betterment of all involved (and essentially the bottom line). Good for you to stand up to this.

    And per Daniel’s comment above, you’ve got a warped sense of reality and fit in perfectly with the Silicon Valley clones that advocate it’s fun to take it up the ___. Who taught you that “everything beautiful in life is ugly in the inside”? That’s a sad, pathetic lie.

    1. Hi There,

      Thanks for your support and I’m happy to hear that this blog has reached beer conversations in the valley itself! You’re so right about the frustration of being alone in terms of speaking out. Others share the same sentiments but only behind closed doors or over beers out of earshot of management.

      There is so much wasted productivity and unfocused energy spent in vein due to workplace politics such as bullying and mind-games. I only imagine how productive and successful a workplace could be if it was genuinely void of politics.

      Thanks again for reading and thanks for your support.

      Take Care,

      Ben

  3. Daniel Campos – being a big or iconic company doesn’t give one the right to be a bully. If everything beautiful is ugly inside, it doesn’t mean that we stand for it or accept it. we provide feedback in order to stamp out negativity, in order to make the company better.

  4. Thanks Saul for adding your words of wisdom. You’ve articulated my sentiments perfectly. Standing by and allowing bullying and negativity because ‘it’s the world’s biggest tech company’ is exactly the reason why such organisations are never held accountable and people don’t speak out. Thanks for your support!

  5. So I read the article, the defense of the article and a wide number of responses.. I found Daniel Campos’ response the most cynical of all. While it is true that people who like sausage or not particularly interested in how it is made, applying this concept to the treatment of human beings even metaphorically is a tragedy.

    Silicon Valley has made a reputation of breaking the mold relative to the rest of the business world in the 50’s and 60’s when I was a child, but the sad fact of the matter today is the mold they have cast is in need of breaking again.

    I completely agree with the author’s assertion that the mirror-tocracy of conformance to perceptual ideals is trumping the value of qualified workers who not only could drive innovation, but add a sense of stability in an otherwise hyper agile and thus subject to severe burn out readily seen across the valley today.

    In Silicon Valley, people are much like the meat that goes into the breakfast sausage consumed by millions each day. It really is time that #AllSausageLivesMatter

  6. Apple is our era’s IBM. I am not sure what happened at IBM but I feel someday Apple will implode. I am coming from a consumer standpoint. I do not pretend to know business. I wonder if there will be a time when Apple employees “go postal”. If not bending to their will as a consumer means I am unhip and not worth it..so be it. I march in lockstep with no one.

  7. Seems Apple isn’t the only big tech company treating employees badly. Microsoft had its ranking system and upper management myopia, thus Steve Balmer left and his replacement Sataya Nadella culture seems better per employees there.
    Amazon too has issues per NYT.

  8. Hello Ben,
    I sincerely thank you for the candid blogging. Any comments here empathizing with a “pull up your big boy pants” mentality needs to spend a day in the life of an employee at the EU headquarters in CORK, IRELAND.

    Thousands of foreign nationals hired to relocate, led by false promises during the recruiting process only to find a devastating reality when they arrive. The relocation package promised is never paid. They wait with starving families and depleted bank accounts six weeks for the first paycheck. The first check arrives and it is half of what it should have been. Management does nothing to correct the problem and only pushes it off with a smile “Payroll will fix it and the money will be added to your next check.” Five weeks later the second check is still incorrect. Management then refers the employee to the Irish welfare department for financial assistance which they are not eligible. The salary is 60 euro above the amount of a social welfare payment. The promised relocation package of 1270.00 is still not reimbursed five months later and most have received emails stating they are “not eligible” due to some small technicality. The long hours are welcomed, as extra hours would bring much needed money. Sadly, they find the extra hours are never paid. Management claiming “it will come on the next month’s check. In the end, the employees stop asking as they are fighting to be paid at all, let alone for extra hours.

    Families have moved their entire lives here for the great opportunity of a career with the iconic Apple. The reality is a human factor no better than imported slave labor. In one newly imported group I’ll give a very real account of what actually happens: Italian man sleeping in an alley because he could no longer afford his hotel. Family from Germany sleeping in their car, also depleted savings and waiting to be paid. Six others also homeless. Several that drove over have had their cars impounded by the Garda that parks outside Apple daily waiting. Those that had family in their native country and were able, have quit and returned home. Most are stranded here with no way to leave. A small few are living off credit cards and hanging on by their teeth. It is a normal occurrence to see a co-worker burst into tears. If they need a half day off to rectify any problem stemming from this, YES it is an infraction on their record. At the end of training, the manager organized a mandatory “happy hour” outing to celebrate the completion of training. The group that sat around the table were a sad sight. Some sipping water, others trying to smile as sipped a beer that meant they wouldn’t be able to afford to eat the next day, many whispered amongst themselves about other jobs they were interviewing for or discussing how they would find a way to return to their native country.

    Please know these are young university graduates as well as mature industry professionals. They spent thousands of their own money to make the move to Ireland. Most left behind homes and good paying careers for the opportunity to make a life and a long term career here.

    These people have no issue with the actual work required. They don’t complain about the hours, tasks or the amenities offered such as a gym or a beautiful gourmet cafe. Amenities would be dandy if they could actually afford to utilize them.

    I have always been a “brand loyalist” and have owned every generation of every Apple product available in the past twenty years. Friends often teased I have an iLife…now, I have put every product I own on eBay and vow to never buy another Apple product in my lifetime. Yes, it’s personal. To me, it’s a human factor of how a company behaves ethically. I cannot in good conscience feed the beast. My once beloved Apple is now the sour forbidden fruit.

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