Published on: August 20, 2015
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
We've had a lot of discussion about workplace environments here over the past week, largely prompted by the New York Times article about Amazon, so it seemed like a good time to tell you about one of the more negative workplace experiences I've ever heard of ... at a retailer where one of my sons worked part-time until recently.
The job was at American Eagle, the clothing retailer, and it served as a sort of placeholder for my son as he did all the stuff he needed to do in order to position himself for a career job in broadcasting and, eventually, sports. (A job he has now, by the way.)
I worked my way through school for a couple of clothing retailers, and I've been writing about retailing for more than 30 years ... but I'd never before heard of a retailer that would give its part-time employees maybe a dozen hours a week, at just over minimum wage, and then would require those same employees to be on-call for maybe another dozen hours. My son would have to call in, would only actually get brought into work 10 percent of the time, but he wouldn't get paid for those on-call hours and the practice prevented him from getting a second part-time job. (This is a practice, by the way, being challenged as illegal in New York State courts.)
Needless to say, he was thrilled to leave...and not just because he was moving in a direction with far greater career fulfillment opportunities.
But all I could think to myself when he was doing this was that American Eagle seemed to be going out of its way to create a workplace environment that was unfriendly to the people who worked there. They seemed not to have learned the Jurassic Park lesson ... that just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something. And in taking this approach, the company virtually insured that its people would be looking for other places to work and would not serve as enthusiastic ambassadors for the company. How could they?
I suppose the opposing argument would be that American Eagle's business model requires virtually disposable employees, and it seems to be working out well so far. And to be fair, just yesterday American Eagle apparently reported strong second quarter profits and earnings ... so what the hell do I know?
But I do think that customer-facing companies that want to create differentiated and sustainable business models - especially in the face of so much competition from both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers - ought to not be so cavalier about how they treat their employees, because in the end the whole business model depends on how those employees treat their customers. And other retailers ought to talk about their best practices when it comes to employees, firmly establishing themselves as being employers of choice.
American Eagle may be flying high right now. But I suspect that, down the road, it'll be grounded. I certainly would never shop there.
Anyway, that's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: