Swedish Startup Space

Mass defections from Spotify’s highly praised HR-department

Written by on July 12, 2016
Editors Note: This post is part of a series called Featured posts, presented by Breakit.

What’s it like to work in HR at Spotify? No fun at all, according numerous sources and leaked documents.

From the outside, Spotify is an incredibly popular startup in Sweden. The company hires close to 100 new employees every month, Chief HR Officer Katarina Berg said at a seminar in Almedalen, Sweden.

The company’s progressive work policy made global headlines last year when the Spotify introduced fully paid parental leave.

But there is an unknown side to the success story.

Breakit can now reveal that Spotify’s HR-department – the part of the company that handles recruitment and personnel – have been highly affected by internal dissent over the last few years.

Ostracism, power struggles and employees going on sick leave because of the work environment is not uncommon, according to numerous sources.

“I love Spotify, and the tech team works incredibly well, but the strict hierarchy on the HR-side has created fear among the employees. Some have been told that there are a lot of other people who want their job, and that they can go do something else if it doesn’t suit them”, one source says.

With a promise of anonymity, Breakit has listened to the stories of a string of employees, both former and current employees in Sweden and the U.S.

Around 20 people have chosen to leave or have been forced from their jobs – because of conflicts with management, according to Breakit’s sources who all paint the same picture.

Breakit has also read a leaked staff survey labeled “Spotify Internal Benchmark”. The results were published internally early in 2015. The report shows the following results for the HR department:

  • Just 40 percent of the HR-staff responded positively to the statement that “backstabbing as a means to get things done is avoided at their department”. In other words, less than half of the department agreed that backstabbing is generally avoided in their workplace. The corresponding figure at Spotify’s tech-department was 72 percent and the average for “fast growing tech companies” was 77 percent.
  • Merely 43 percent agreed with the statement that their boss does NOT favor specific employees. The Spotify tech-department’s figure was at 79 percent and the industry standard was 74 percent.
  • Only 33 percent agreed with the statement that the management did a good job dividing workloads. 63 percent of the tech department agreed with the same statement and the industry standard was 79 percent.
  • Within one division under the HR department, with 11 respondants, the numbers were catastrophic at several points. 10 percent responded that expectations from the managers were clear – and merely 18 percent said that they can get a clear answer from management.
  • The HR-department in general had significantly lower results in all indexes, compared to both Spotify and the tech industry in general.

Many employees that Breakit has spoken to does not want to give a negative public image of the company, but still feel that the problems at HR needs attention.

Many of them point to the global Chief HR Officer, Katarina Berg, as the reason for the dissent.

She was recruited in 2013 with the mission to take Spotify from a startup to an international enterprise. She is also a part of Spotify’s executive branch a long with the founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, among others.

“She is a tough woman, and a lot of people have quit their jobs because of her. However, the opinions about her vary. There are people who are against her and others who support her”, a source says to Breakit.

Breakit offered Katarina Berg the opportunity to comment on the accusations during Sweden’s yearly politics conference in Almedalen last week. She has declined to give an interview so far, but has sent the following comment in an email from Spotify’s PR-department:

“I took the job as CHRO in October 2013, and am responsible for six departments. What is positive is that the department in question has gone through a reconstruction, and the results that you refer to are now as good as or slightly better than the company average according to the same survey in January 2016.”

The response is hard to interpret, because the company does not explain what it means by “the department in question”, which is just one of the HR-departments and does not necessarily mirror the situation in HR as a whole.

Read the full article in Swedish here.

Do you know more about this? Contact Erik Wisterberg at erik@breakit.se or +46 79-593 10 30.

Photos by Erik Wisterberg and Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
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