Watch Playing by the Rules: Ethics at Work – Driven
They’ve become the Ten Commandments of Silicon Valley – a set of popular motivational slogans like“Move Fast & Break Things,” “Change or Die,” and the ubiquitous one-word exhortation “Disrupt!”
Perhaps no company embodied those values more than Uber. In a mere seven years, Uber went from a local San Francisco ride-hailing service to a multi-national corporation, operating in more than 70 countries. By 2017, it was valued at nearly $75 billion, more than General Motors.
Clearly, much of that growth was the result of having developed a new and immensely popular product. In part, it was also a result of having pushed ethical and legal boundaries. Under the leadership of its former chief executive Travis Kalanick, Uber was accused of stealing technology, manipulating its business partners, and illegally operating in cities across America. Driven to win at whatever cost, Kalanick referred to his way of doing business as “burning the village.” More than once, that risk-taking put Uber in jeopardy, antagonizing tech giants like Apple and Google as well as government regulators.
As one well-known tech investor put it, “Travis’s biggest strength is he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals.” Under Kalanick, Uber didn’t just develop a bad reputation with the outside world. Inside the company, an “Animal House” atmosphere prevailed in which sexual harassment and gender discrimination were commonplace.
In the summer of 2017, amid growing concerns about his leadership and with Uber hoping to become a public company, Kalanick was forced out by the board of directors. A new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been charged with repairing Uber’s image.
With consumers and investors increasingly sensitive to how companies make their money, Uber presents a case study in non-traditional business risks, like a company’s public image and the impact of reputational damage. As similar controversies unfold over the business practices of tech giants like Facebook and Google, does that mean the Silicon Valley era of “moving fast and breaking things” may be coming to an end?
Read: Cases from the Real World page 313. (Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/business-ethics/pages/10-3-alternatives-to-traditional-patterns-of-work )
Have you ever been a gig worker? A recent study found that 37 percent of U.S. workers participate in the gig economy, and government and other estimates say 40 percent will be working outside traditional full-time jobs by 2020. Clearly the gig economy is not a fad. The issue is often whether it benefits only the company or also the worker. Do people actually like being gig workers, or has the economy forced them into it, sometimes by taking second and third jobs?
A national survey by the Freelancers Union found that two in three of the 55 million U.S. workers who freelanced in 2016 did so because they wanted to, not because they were forced to; the other one-third did it out of necessity.70 (Links to an external site.) Although motivations for gig work may vary, it is clear that employers are benefitting. Of course, part-time contract workers are not new. What is new is the way gig work has spread to many white-collar professions. Here are two examples.
Joseph creates websites for a marketing company and a digital content studio. He also creates and edits motion graphics. “It’s been a fun ride, tiring but fun,” he says. “Finding time is always the struggle. I’m working on a freelance project every weekend.” Joseph thinks gig work has helped him improve his graphic skills faster than he might have done in a traditional job. “I get to move around to different companies, and if one thing falls out, I still have other things I can fall back on—and it keeps me sharp.”
Nicole, a mother of three, is a full-time clerk at a law firm, but she decided she needed extra money and signed up with a work-at-home call center. Her husband has joined too. Nicole says her gig job is one she could continue when she retires, and she likes that possibility. 71 (Links to an external site.)
“This is the future of work,” says Diane Mulcahy, a private equities investor whose clients often benefit financially from the use of gig workers. “The full-time employee is getting to be the worker of last resort.”72 (Links to an external site.)
Describe the parties involved and their interests.
Describe the corporate culture at Uber.
How did Travis Kalanick’s personality and actions influence the corporate culture at Uber?
What did Kalanick stand to gain or lose if he had changed his behavior?
Describe key moments when Kalanick or Uber’s shareholders could have made different choices with different outcomes for the company.
Aside from the lack of benefits, what are the potentially negative effects for society of the gig economy?
What happens to the concept of loyalty between worker and employer if we move to a mostly gig economy?
Will that result be negative or positive? For whom, and why?
How has the last year impacted the gig economy?
Directions Icon DIRECTIONS
Instructions for all case studies:
Prepare a paper that is longer than one full page. Please include a header on the paper that includes your name, course section, assignment title and date. Additionally, use headings through out the paper to organize your paper.
At a minimum discuss:
The particulars of the case
The critical issues
The applicable points from the readings that apply
Personal experience with similar issues
Questions brought up in the exercises, and
How you believe most people would act in a similar circumstance.