Apple’s frontline employees are struggling to survive

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Jimmy Bailey said that Mark Calivas was killed by Apple. How else could he explain how the Apple Store champion, known for evangelizing therapy and mental health, would slide into a depression so profound he would be forced to take medical leave and die by suicide? Bailey says there was nothing in his life that caused this. It was work.

Calivas started working at the Apple Southpoint store. His colleagues were amused when he arrived in the morning with multiple changes of clothes, healthy snacks and two 64oz water bottles. Bailey remembers that he had so many bags.
Calivas had demons. His mother had died when he was young, and he had never really known his father. He was grounded by his job at the Apple Store. He had a sense of purpose and dignity.
To help people become doers, to help passion expand, to do the best work of our lives.

A whip smart, data-driven woman was hired as the store's new manager. Bailey and another former colleague said that if you were on her side, you could get a good schedule, a special project, and a promotion. But if you weren't? The former colleague said that you would be punished in the most strategic ways.

Mark Calivas was never on her side. She hated him, she told me. She would talk about how Mark wasn't good enough, he wasn't special, don't give him the chance because he hasn't earned it, even though he had done everything to earn it.

Calivas began to lose his confidence under the manager. His friends said he felt trapped by her behavior. He took medical leave to deal with his depression.
Apple would not confirm the complaints, but Bailey and two former colleagues said there had been multiple complaints against the manager. But nothing changed. One of the former colleagues says he filed at least four complaints himself. I participated in at least six investigations. Employees lost hope that anyone at Apple would hold the woman accountable.
Apple has always been committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace, according to a statement from Nick Leahy. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised, but we do not discuss specific employee matters.

The story shows a potential problem for Apple workers. Many people say they have no one to turn to when things go wrong. Corporate makes decisions based on what they think will work in the stores without talking to people who work in the stores, according to a former colleague.

The employee relations team at Apple is more concerned with protecting the company than it is with its workforce, according to some employees.
It may be worse for hourly workers at Apple. The company is concerned with customers but ignores its retail and customer service staff, according to employees who spoke to The Verge.
Over the past five months, Apple's hourly workforce has been watching as corporate employees advocate for more pay transparency. Some employees in Cupertino have organized under the banner #AppleToo to call for better working conditions. Others are starting to speak out because they realize that the issues their well-compensated corporate colleagues are experiencing could be much worse on the frontlines.
16 current and former Apple employees spoke with The Verge about their working conditions and pay, and how they have been ignored. It is difficult to getholistic help because they are governed more by systems than managers. All of them note that while they believed in Apple's mission, they saw a breakdown in how the company's corporate values translate to the frontlines.
A former employee says that it really didn't feel like our soul was our people.

An employee at an Apple Store picks a line from the Apple creed and talks about how it applies to that day's work. To help people become doers, to help people become passionate, to help people do the best work of their lives. We give more than we take.

Workers say it is easy to tell who wants to get promoted because they will pick a line that says "Turning dreamers into doers." Not every retail worker buys into it. A retail employee in Philadelphia says people get emotional. When people want to get promoted, they go deep in that stuff. It's all just a lie.

Pay is part of the issue. According to Glassdoor, Apple retail employees make between $19 and $25 an hour. It is good for the retail industry, but grating for employees who want to build a career at the tech giant. Some people say that they make less than $21 an hour after six years at the company.
Retail workers are evaluated differently. The net promoter score is used by Apple to see how stores are performing. After a customer leaves a store, they will sometimes receive a survey asking them to evaluate the employee who helped them as well as the overall store experience.

The employees spent eight hours a day with angry customers.

Low scores can be about factors that are outside of the employees control. They still don't reflect well on their staff. A current employee in Pittsburgh says there is never positive intent assumed. It always feels like you are making an excuse when you are in trouble. The surveys are meant to give customers a consistent way to say whether the stores are meeting Apple's standards, but they systematically place the customer over the employee.
This can be frustrating when the issue is Apple corporate. The performance of older phones would improve if they replaced their batteries. This was one of Apple's largest customer experience scandals as people realized the company slowed down older models to preserve their battery life.
The company said it would replace phone batteries for free. Apple told retail workers to try to complete battery swaps in under 10 minutes, according to a former employee. Workers say they didn't have the supplies or resources necessary to meet the mandate. A former retail manager says that it is not possible to replace a battery in 10 minutes. They are not in the stores, so nothing from corporate to the stores.

The Apple credo has become more important as a result of this backdrop. It is meant to inspire employees to provide exemplary customer service, to elevate even mundane parts of the job to stratospheric levels of importance.
Some employees thought that it applied to how Apple treated its workforce. The company was supposed to enrich the lives of its employees. Is it possible to give more than it takes?

The break down began on March 14th, 2020, when Apple announced it was temporarily closing all of its stores. One current worker in Pennsylvania was selected to be part of a new program that would answer calls from customers who needed tech support over the phone. The employee was relieved that his wife was immune compromised and that he had asthma. Being able to work from home seemed to be a good solution to stay safe and keep earning money.
The job was not easy to do. The employees spent eight hours a day answering angry customers' questions. Customer satisfaction and call time were evaluated. People with high scores knew they would eventually get better schedules, promotions, and opportunities at Apple. People with low scores could be put on action plans to improve.
When he was told that his scores were good, the Pennsylvania employee didn't hear much from his manager. He was going to start taking tier two calls. If a lower-level adviser couldn't answer a customer's questions, they could escalate the call to him. He asked if the job came with a raise, but was told it didn't.
Apple sent employees in the work from home program a shirt as a gift to make up for the increased workload. Employees realized it had a large 14 on the back and 2020 on the sleeve when it arrived. The live event that was canceled was leftovers from the previous year.
It felt like a slap in the face. Employees wanted a raise. Some people worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. They were dealing with the same angst as the rest of the population, while being yelled at on the phone by customers who barely treated them like people.

It starts to get into a game of fixing the numbers more than helping the customers.

The employee said his mental health started to decline. He couldn't leave the house because it was poorly lit. He was told to put a plant on his desk when he tried to talk to his manager.
The employee was doing a screen share with a customer who was having issues with her display. He told her it would cost $500 to fix the device. The woman was crying. She asked if you could make an exception for her. He apologized, but it wasn't up to him. The woman held a razor to her wrist as she opened Photo Booth on her computer screen. He says she told him that the stress he was getting was doing him.
The man asked if he needed half an hour to get over what had happened. The employee said it didn't feel like enough time. His boss told him to take a break, but to try to keep it to 30 minutes.

An employee asked to return to in-person work when Apple Stores reopened in early 2021. He says that he and his wife had to wager their mental health against their physical health to see if it was worth it. He was told to keep working from home.
He was able to go back to the store after he asked to go on medical leave. He claims that he was allowed to come back to the store to keep him off leave.

In September, Apple announced that all retail and care employees who had been with the company since March 31st would receive a $1,000 bonus. Some workers thought the bonus was a nice surprise, but others thought it was a ploy to get them to leave. A Pennsylvania employee says that they don't want to get sued for not giving hazard pay after making some of them work in public.

The mental health strain that retail employees felt working from home during the Pandemic gave them a glimpse into the lives of another organization at the tech giant. The tech support team answers customer questions in online chats and over the phone.
A gay man living in the South said that when he got a job at Apple, he knew he would stay there for a long time. He says he had a chance to be a part of the company. I always describe it as my longest relationship.

The idea of working from home for a tech giant was too good to be true at first. He says sitting at a computer for eight to 10 hours a day began to take a mental toll. He decided to take medical leave in order to cope with the stress of responding to customers in under two minutes.
The employee says he and his partner ran out of money as his medical bills started piling up. He says that they had to start selling their stuff to pay their bills. We spent most of the summer without air conditioning or electricity.
His paycheck was only $23 when it arrived in May 2021. He couldn't afford the rent. He said that Apple's corporate payroll team would look into it after he contacted them.

The employee says that he has given the best years of his life, all his 20s working for Apple, now he needs help. The employee says that the corporate people and payroll teams don't know what it's like to live on the edge.
Apple's customer support function operates in a reactive mania, using a vast array of processes and metrics to keep employees on task, while Apple's corporate offices take a proactive, deliberate approach to product development. If workers go to the bathroom or are away from their computers for more than five minutes, they will sometimes get a note from their manager asking why they aren't working. The customer satisfaction score, after call work time, and average handle time are all indicators of how long it takes them to solve a customer issue. A good AHT is 15 minutes for phone calls and two minutes for chats.
It starts to get into a game of fixing the numbers more than helping the customers. They look at the numbers and think that is helping the customer.
Employees who want to help customers often have to sacrifice their personal metrics. A current employee wonders if he will be a little slower with an elderly person on the phone. I can't treat everyone the same because they are not all the same.
Employees are expected to speak to three people at the same time on chats, which can make it difficult to resolve issues. A current employee says it is impossible to do a good job multitasking. We have to respond in two minutes from an Apple ID issue to an iCloud issue.

I still see him in that chair even though my eyes are closed.

Apple hired vendors to manage some of the chats and calls about four years ago. This meant a sudden onslaught of angry customers for tier two advisers, who were tasked with taking calls that couldn't be resolved by lower-level employees. Multiple employees said that the level of training for vendors was not the same as for in-house Apple employees. Customers were angry when a tier two adviser got the call.
An AppleCare employee wrote a letter to management in September. The letter said that Apple should include a cost of living adjustment in addition to its raises, because it is fair and just. There are links to studies about how multitasking increases stress. The employee declined an interview with The Verge.
Tier two chat advisers were told in February of 2021 that their jobs were being eliminated. The employee said that they were told that the tier two chat team had lower customer satisfaction ratings than the tier two phone advisers. The employee said that taking three chats at a time is different than answering one phone call after another. Being able to do your job with one hand tied behind your back is what we equate it to.

The idea that you could move up in the organization and eventually land a managerial role was slowly being taken away from employees. In the past, employees who worked hard could be selected for a team manager assistant role, meaning they would fill in for managers who were on vacation. They would eventually become the manager. They took on managerial responsibilities with the illusion of a possible job progression and received no extra pay. Even that thin reward was hard to find.
The wealth of its executives was seen as a disparity in Apple's financial success. In 2015, Tim Cook said he would give away his fortune before he died. A current employee says that when he saw Tim Cook was worth nearly a billion dollars, he thought he could start with AppleCare.

Mark Calivas sent an email to an Apple human resources representative a few weeks before he died, according to a text conversation he had with his friend Jimmy Bailey. He wrote that he had been a victim of intimidation, public humiliation, bullied, and lied about. No Store Leader or Senior Manager has been able to keep me safe from the manager. I want to work for Apple again. I want to keep giving. I don't feel like I can do that while working in the same environment as the manager.

Calivas had lost hope that he would be able to transfer to a different store. He felt that the corporate just didn't care after all the investigations into the manager had gone nowhere. He was too depressed to try and get another job and leave Apple.
Bailey walked into Calivas' room the morning of September 7th, 2021, and found him slumped over a chair, his arms hanging limp in his lap. He wore a bright yellow hazmat hood. A tube ran from the hood to the tank. The hood was covered with condensation. Bailey says that he still sees him in the chair even though his eyes are closed. According to the report, Calivas died from inhaling nitrogen.
Bailey says in a final interview that he wants to speak directly to Tim Cook. I have sent you an email about this issue. I told you about the damage at Apple Southpoint. I spoke to a representative of employee relations. I told him that they need to look into the records on hand to see if they could have stopped the damage. What are you going to do, Tim? I still see him. I see him every now and then. Even though I see him, he's gone.

An Apple spokesman said in a statement that they were devastated by the death of a colleague and that they were thinking of his loved ones.