Apple fortress is being disintegrated from the inside: employee dissatisfaction is increasing, and the confidentiality culture is being challenged

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Tencent technology news on October 2, Apple has always been famous for paying attention to confidentiality. It is often difficult for the outside world to understand the details of new products or plans before they are officially released. However, apple fortress is gradually being disintegrated from within. More and more employees are dissatisfied with their corporate culture, the way they treat employees and some decisions, and begin to talk about various topics openly. At the same time, Apple’s proud confidentiality culture has also been challenged.
On June 14, 2021, apple telework advocacy sent an anonymous email to CEO Tim Cook. “We all agree that we came to apple to make great products, enrich people’s lives and enrich the world. We believe that by adding more flexibility to the announced return to office policy, we can create the same or even better products,” they wrote
Two weeks ago, cook announced that Apple was reopening its office after a difficult year of remote work. From September, employees will be required to return to the office three days a week and can choose to work from home on Wednesday and Friday. This news is not surprising. Apple’s senior management team has never thought of implementing a complete telecommuting model. Novel coronavirus pneumonia is not suitable for employees who have moved out of Apple’s office during the new crown pneumonia outbreak. They hardly want to go back.
If it had not been for the creation of the “remote work advocacy” slack channel in September 2020 to promote a more flexible work environment, the tension between apple and its employees might have remained low. By the summer of 2021, the organization has reached 2800 members, and the dialogue has become more and more active. After cook announced the news, the employees knew they had to send a clear signal. This is a small counterattack to the management, which will lay the foundation for several months of employee organization efforts and perhaps change Apple’s workforce forever.
“Not everyone is afraid that Apple will fire them.”
Apple’s rebound in telecommuting shows that a deeper transformation is taking place within the company. Since 1976, the operation mode of the technology giant has remained basically unchanged: executives decide how the company will operate, and employees either abide by it or leave. What choice do they have? Apple’s current market value is as high as $2 trillion. It is the most valuable company in the world and one of the most powerful companies.
However, in the past few months, this culture has begun to die out. As employees across the technology industry seek greater power, Apple’s top-down management seems more disconnected than ever before. Now, more and more employees are making internal organizational changes and talking freely about working conditions on twitter.
Jason Snell, former editor of Macworld, who has been reporting on Apple since the 1990s, said: “the balance of power here is changing. Not everyone is worried that their boss at Apple will fire them. They say, ‘I want to say something bad about Apple. If you want to revenge me, it will give you a bad impression.'”
In part, this shift stems from a radical experiment being carried out by the technology giant, namely, the use of slack. Apple employees used to work in an extremely isolated team and had little chance to meet people outside the current project or department. Now they have a way to communicate with anyone in the company. Employees have found that people in completely different departments within apple have personal dissatisfaction with their work.
Employee dissatisfaction varies: some people want companies to invest in internal tools to better protect their privacy. Others want pay specifications to become more transparent. Many people interviewed felt that Apple’s employee relations team was far from enough to address their concerns in the workplace. The most important desire is that employees want to feel heard. But so far, it is not entirely clear whether Apple executives are willing to listen.
Special case 1: women have low salary and long working hours, and telecommuting is prohibited
In August 2018, when Kate Rotondo began to work as a software engineering writer at Apple, she knew she was an exception: Although most Apple employees worked on site, she would be allowed to work at home one day a week and could choose to work remotely for another day after six months.
By Apple’s standards, this is a compromise. What Rotondo wanted, and what she asked for, was complete telecommuting. In the past three years, she has felt exhausted. Rotondo moved to San Francisco from Tubingen, Germany, and was responsible for raising his 9-year-old son after divorce. The last thing she needs is three or four hours of commuting time, but her manager’s attitude is firm: it’s impossible to work completely from home.
When Rotondo started her new job, she was surprised to find that the recruitment manager himself worked completely remotely, as did her other three male colleagues. Rotondo was the only person on the team who was asked to stay in the office. Rotondo was helpless. She kept it in her mind for six months until she talked to a colleague who was about to change from contract to full-time. The level of the latter is much higher than that of roton, the basic salary will be increased by $25000, and the restricted stock award will be increased by an additional $20000.
This discovery shocked Rotondo. She felt she was more experienced than her male colleagues. Although they worked longer at Apple, she co authored books on adobe air programming language, taught programming in the Continuing Education Department of Mills College and Rhode Island School of design, and was an expert on Apple’s own IOS programming language, swift.

Luo tongduo began to chat with her colleagues and found that her income was the lowest compared with the other eight people. Her basic salary is $10000 to $15000 less than others at the same level of work. In her second year’s assessment cycle, the manager said she was meeting expectations and praised her outstanding performance of rapid integration into the team. Rotondo’s base salary increased by $5000 and restricted stock awards increased by $3000, but far below her expectations. Before that, the minimum restricted stock award she had heard of was $50000, more than 16 times her own.
Rotondo explained to her manager that she felt her performance was underestimated and her salary was too low, citing her conversation with her colleagues as evidence. But the manager retorted that she needed to perform better than her colleagues to be considered for promotion. For Rotondo, she felt she was asked to do far more than her male colleagues, who made more money than her, and they could work completely remotely.
Rotondo leapt up to reflect his problems. The latter informed the employee relations team (Apple’s human resources team) and promised to investigate it. However, two months later, the employee relations team concluded that Rotondo’s salary level was high and the salary was fair. Soon after, Rotondo resigned. She has worked at Apple for nearly two years. Under the attention of the manager and apple employee relations team, she feels helpless. She has no clear way to express her dissatisfaction to colleagues who may feel the same way. Five months later, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“Poor and rich” under confidentiality rules
A few months later, other Apple employees will start to contact on slack and openly talk about pay equity and gender discrimination on twitter, which is what Rotondo is trying to solve. But by then, it was too late. Until May 2021, the public rarely heard about Apple employees like Rotondo. Jason Snell said, “it feels like when you go behind the scenes of apple, you can’t hear your voice anymore.” Steve Jobs was very determined to keep his employees confidential. When he returned to apple in 1997, he deleted the names of all employees from the “about” box of the software.
Internally, this confidentiality is maintained through a series of norms and rules. The rule is simple: don’t talk about Apple in public unless specifically asked. Moreover, employee badges only open certain doors. They are required to sign project specific confidentiality agreements. Product documents are encoded with internal keywords such as “ultra”, “black” and “white”, which imply the level of confidentiality of the work.
Ultra project usually refers to Apple’s largest product launch, which is tracked by Apple’s internal system, which monitors employees with prototype equipment. Apple requires suppliers to sign confidentiality agreements and apple restricted project agreements before receiving information about such work.
Matt MacInnis, a former Apple employee, wrote: “This confidential environment creates an unwritten hierarchy of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ within the company. For the ‘rich’, confidentiality authority is a way to exert influence and show power, beyond a person’s role or title. For the ‘poor’, it is a subtle but continuous reminder, reminding people of your insignificant.”
Apple’s values that support all this raise the issue of confidentiality from a potential loss of revenue to one of the company’s core DNA. Its idea is that Apple products should give them what they want without the public’s awareness and before they even know what they want.
But confidentiality also permeates other parts of Apple’s culture. Although the company made it clear that its policy “should not be interpreted as limiting your right to freely talk about your salary, working hours or working conditions”, the reality is that there is a strong expectation that internal problems should be solved internally.
For many Apple employees, these traits are seen as the price of working at Apple. Apple is one of the most famous technology companies in Silicon Valley. When people sign up, they know what they will encounter. But for others, Apple’s refusal to listen to employees is becoming a bigger sticking point, especially in a time when the balance of power is shifting from managers to ordinary employees Times.
Special case 2: Apple employees joined the change movement, and “online Red employees” exposed internal problems
On May 11, 2021, a number of female Apple employees found that Apple hired Antonio Garc í a mart í Nez, a former Facebook product manager, who had written an insider book in Silicon Valley, which contained a description of discrimination against women. According to the contents of the book circulated internally, he said that most women in the San Francisco Bay area “Weak and incompetent, spoiled and naive”.
The employees discussed this issue on the slack channel and finally decided to write an internal letter to Eddie cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services . they didn’t expect Martinez to be fired. They just wanted to know how he was hired in the first place. Martinez will work on privacy issues in the advertising platform team, which consists of men. Todd teresi, vice president of Apple’s advertising platform There are no female subordinates. The idea that there may be no women in Martinez’s recruitment team angered Apple employees and further stimulated efforts to establish rights organizations.
The next day, when the letter was still being finalized, a version of it was leaked to the media. A few hours later, Martinez was fired. For many women in slack, the leak felt violated. They wanted to keep the letter inside and sincerely hoped to contact Apple’s leadership and listen to their opinions.

But it also marks a turning point for Apple’s employee organization. After the contents of the above letter were exposed, another group of employees wrote a letter asking cook to publicly support Palestine in Israel’s deadly bombing. Then the telework advocacy slack channel published a letter against returning to the office. They also circulated a survey asking people how they felt about returning to the office. The findings were soon made public.
These events have brought Apple employees into a broad change movement, which has been shaking the technology industry since at least 2018. Google employees held a mass strike to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment. Amazon warehouse workers tried to unionize. Facebook employees seem to be expressing their dissatisfaction to the media throughout 2020. However, this is the first time that Apple employees have joined the struggle: openly fighting back against the decision of the company’s leadership.
Apple has always discouraged employees from talking about work on social media, even in seemingly harmless ways. The company’s guidelines are vague: “carefully consider how to present yourself on online social networks. In online social networks, the boundaries between public and private, personal and professional become blurred. In particular, respecting the privacy of our customers and other employees is our priority.”
Nevertheless, many employees claim that those who talk about apple on twitter will soon receive a notice from the business PR team asking for an “interview”. This does not always mean getting into trouble, but the message is clear: Apple executives are watching closely. In the past, this was enough to prevent most employees from being outspoken. Now, employees know that if their tweets get enough attention, they may not be publicly retaliated. That is, unless Apple claims that they violated company policies.
When Cher Scarlett joined apple as a software engineer in the security team in April 2020, she already had a large number of fans on twitter. But in the first year, she didn’t tweet about workplace concerns. It was not until the news of Martinez’s employment began to circulate internally that she finally decided to express her views. She wrote on Twitter: “hiring Martinez breaks my heart like many others at Apple. I believe the community strength we have at Apple and the culture we build can stand the test. I also believe that the leadership can do the right thing.”
Over the next few months, Scarlett became more outspoken about the problems she saw at Apple. When she browsed level s.fyi, a website for people to compare salary data, she realized that women in her team seemed to earn less than men, at least in her place.
She knows that Apple has closed three independent employee compensation surveys, claiming that these surveys either contain personal identity information or are hosted on Apple’s box account, which is not allowed. Therefore, she decided to conduct her own investigation. After receiving about 2000 responses, she posted some of the survey results on twitter, indicating that far fewer women, non bisexuals and non whites hold technical or senior positions at Apple.
The news of the survey inspired others, including Kate Rotondo, to start talking openly about their problems on twitter, trying to get fair pay and treatment. For Rotondo, it’s too late to get justice from apple. After all, she has left the technology industry, but her outspoken experience can still help. Apple’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did not take action on her case, which was a heavy blow to a person who hoped that Apple might be held accountable and prevent it from treating other workers unfairly. Now, Rotondo feels that the only way to hold the company accountable is to publicly oppose its strategy on twitter.
Special case 3: female employees were dismissed after complaining about the company and were forced to hand over nude photos
On July 26, 2021, Ashley GJ Vik, Apple’s senior engineering project manager, asked a question on slack channel: do we think Apple has done enough to deal with employees’ complaints about discrimination? Do we feel comfortable even reporting problems?
This note triggered a long discussion among women, who also felt misled by the human resources team of the technology giant. Jovik himself said that the employee relations department had investigated many of her complaints and told her that “action had been taken”. “But when I investigated further, I found that there was no practical solution or action at all because it did not violate Apple’s policies,” she wrote. Her view was echoed by other women who said they had experienced similar setbacks.
During the epidemic, jovik became more and more worried about the personal safety of working in the office. She already knows that her apple department is located at a pollution point, which means that due to the historical waste pollution, special supervision is needed here. Then she received an email saying that Apple wanted to do a survey in the office to test the air quality.
Jovik expressed her concerns to the manager, saying she was worried about the safety of herself and other colleagues. The latter responded that she should not share her concerns with any colleagues. Jovik went to the employee relations team and asked them to tell their boss not to say she couldn’t talk about workplace safety. Instead, they began to investigate whether he had violated any policies related to gender discrimination.
About 1 months later, the survey showed that Joe Vik’s boss had no violation of policy. When she asked what options she had, the employee relations representative suggested that she submit an application for accommodation from the U.S. Anti Doping Agency and continue to choose remote work after September. For jovik, the request did not address her concerns about personal safety in the office. But she didn’t have many other options, so she filled out the form and wrote that she was seriously worried about the safety of Apple’s department at the site of the chemical spill.

Apple told jovik that she also needed to fill out a medical form and provide its records to Sedgwick, a third-party claims company, and apple. Jovik said she would not do so unless she revised the form and said that her records would only be provided to Sedgwick, not apple. As a result, her application failed.
Jovik was frustrated. She felt that she had been keeping Apple’s secrets for many years and remained silent about the abuse of her boss and team members. Now, she decided to go out, talk about her experience on twitter, and open her heart to the media about what she was going through. Some of her tweets included screenshots of team members bullying her. For example, apple visited her work cell phone, which led to her having to hand over her nude photos in an unrelated legal dispute many years ago.
In August and early September this year, both jovik and Scarlett filed charges with the National Labor Relations Commission. Jovik said she had faced harassment, intimidation and an unsafe and hostile working environment. Scarlett sued on behalf of all Apple employees, saying the company had always restricted their protected right to organize and discuss compensation.
Apple has given a novel coronavirus pneumonia strategy in the past four months: “ignore the problem and minimize it.” in August 20th, the company announced that the new crown pneumonia infection would increase at least until January 2022. The opposition movement on this issue soon subsided as employees realized that they would not be forced back to the office in the short term.
Apple did start to crack down on non work related channels on slack. After the letter that led to Martinez’s dismissal was leaked, the employee relations department announced a series of regulations to prohibit channels unrelated to Apple’s business unless they are part of an official club or diversified organization. This rule does not apply to existing channels, which creates a strange situation: Apple banned the company’s paid slack channel, while # funny dog channel, # funny cat channel and # dad joke channel did not mention anything.
Then, on September 9, apple took its first major public move to combat employee dissent: firing jovik. The company said she violated the confidentiality agreement and leaked Apple’s confidential information. The dismissal is the first real sign that Apple executives may have actually noticed this. However, apple is likely to be unable to stop employees from talking to each other. Too many of them have met and begun to organize. Some people joined the non work slack channel to discuss pay equity and other issues involving Apple’s teams.
It is too early to tell where these activities will go. Apple’s employee organization is headed by a relatively small group of employees, some of whom are frustrated and ready to leave the company.
There is also internal resistance from other factions of Apple’s workforce. Although many employees do not want to go back to the office, they do not agree with the way activists drive change. After jovik’s momentum on twitter began to increase, several current and former Apple employees said on twitter that they were skeptical of her statement and felt that she just wanted to attract people’s attention. On slack, when employees talk about their concerns about privacy or the general lack of transparency, they are often resisted by people. Opponents say that when they join the company, they should know what the purpose of signing a confidentiality agreement is.
For many employees, the price of working at Apple is to endure the hierarchical and secretive nature of the company. But for the rebellious employees, their question is: does Apple really have to do that? (reviewed by Tencent technology / Jinlu)