The exploding Note 7 is no surprise – leaked Samsung doc highlights toxic internal culture

Exec-only presentation encourages intimidation of staff


Life and death

The presentation also highlights positive developments, while acknowledging serious persistent problems.

One slides lists examples of employee deaths that have been attributed to overwork. One employee, Kim, killed himself and the presentation notes that he had worked 100 hours of overtime each month for nine months. A widow of a manager is quoted as saying he "died from overwork."

It then provides positive reinforcement of ensuring that overtime is not abused by listing positive cases when it has helped people and the company flourish.

The presentation also tackles sexual harassment, noting continued problems by saying: "If we fail to take clear actions against the accidents of sexual harassment, they will aggravate the image of our company by requesting petitions to the National Human Rights Commission, filing civil/criminal lawsuits, and involving mass media, etc."

And, in what is both an endearing and patronizingly cynical recommendation, the presentation notes that giving employees gifts – including signed photos of Samsung's CEO – for their birthdays, wedding anniversaries and childbirths can help contribute to a healthier workplace.

"If organizational culture is warm and caring, employees' complaints will be decreased, and their satisfaction and pride will be getting stronger, which leads interests to labor unions to naturally disappear," it notes.

Evidence

Despite these positive efforts, there is no sign that Samsung takes anything but a negative view on labor unions, however. On one slide, it notes that while breaking union laws can come with a two-year jail sentence "in practice only amercement is enforced" – in other words, fines that the company will pay.

It also notes, somewhat unnervingly, that "in the case of facing a lawsuit on unfair labor practices, the existence of evidence is the crux of the matter." Which gives strong implicit justification to executives to behave badly so long as they make sure they don't leave a trail of evidence.

That culture was highlighted again this week when The New York Times reported that Samsung testers on the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphone were told not to communicate with one another electronically – no emails, instant messages or texts. They should only talk offline, the testers were told, to avoid producing potentially damaging information that could be picked up in a subpoena or lawsuit.

Quite how much Samsung toxic internal culture led to what may be the most embarrassing and damaging electronic recall of all time is hard to tell, but it is clear from this presentation and the cynical lessons that the organization appeared to have learned from past problems that it is not the nicest or happiest place to work.

We gave Samsung a lengthy opportunity to respond to the questions raised in the presentation and to provide examples of where its workplace culture has improved in recent years. We have yet to hear back from the company. ®


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