This is not intended as a hit piece on a former employer, but I think it’s indicative of the corporate mindset in America. And since this happened twenty-seven years ago, the underlying condition resulting in the lack of respect has been around for a long time and likely is endemic in our culture. It came to mind today since a dear friend of mine experienced a similar thing with her employer as blizzard conditions bore down on her part of the country. Some things never change. In the world of business, it is always about the bottom line.
In the winter of 1994, a blizzard was coming. Everyone knew about it for days. We’d been preparing for it at my store, a home improvements center in Connecticut. Customers had been coming in looking for snow shovels, ice melting salt, forget about finding a snowblower, that had sold out well before the first major storm of the season. Despite having ordered more stock of storm-related items, by the day of the storm we were out of everything people might want except for batteries and flashlights and even those were running low.
Earlier that day we had a conference call with the district manager earlier. He said that as soon as the snow began falling we were to cut back our staffing and send our hourly employees home, in the interest of their safety. Anyway, we were not going to be busy, so the general manager and our six assistant managers could handle everything. That all made sense. But it was the rest that kinda irked me.
You see, the general store manager was required, at his discretion, to cut loose the assistants who lived furthest from the store, and to do it in order until there was only the general manager and one assistant – whoever lived closest to the store – remaining to stay until regular closing hours. Under no circumstances short of the police arriving at our doorstep and ordering us to close were we allowed to leave early. The company didn’t want to risk that a single customer would need something we would disappoint them, missing that potential sale.
Guess who was the assistant manager who lived closest to the store?
Here’s ‘the out’ for the company, the absolution of all guilt. They allowed the two remaining managers to split costs on a motel room for the night in lieu of driving home. Oh, and they’d also reimburse us for dinner and breakfast. The problem with all that is that the store wasn’t in the best neighborhood so the accommodations close-by were the sort of fleabag joints that local call girls took their johns. Finding anything better would still entail driving a good bit.
For me, driving home was closer. For the store manager, he lived halfway to Rhode Island. Yet, both of us drive 4X4’s, so driving home wasn’t a huge issue, other than the trip being nerve-racking and it taking a good bit longer than usual at the risk of being stranded if anything bad happened. You never know what you might face during a drive in a snowstorm. Plus, the blizzard would make for whiteout conditions which meant that driving blind was a possibility. And I told the manager that he could spend the night at my place. But he was confident that he would make it home regardless of the road conditions.
Of course, I called home to inform my wife that I’d not be home until very late. She was worried, not only about the bad roads but also driving while physically exhausted. By the luck of the schedule, I’d opened that morning, which meant that I’d been there since 4 AM. It would be one of those long days that we who were in management called working an ironman shift, being there for both opening and closing. It happened from time to time due to call-outs for sickness, covering for a required all-store management training session for which one manager, usually the administrative manager, was selected to run the for the entire day. The fact that we had a name for it should indicate that it happened often enough. Anyway, my wife was livid about how the company was treating its managers.
By 6 PM it was dark outside, except that the foot of snow that had fallen over the course of that reflected the street lights making for a fairly bright parking lot. We had four hours left before we could lock the doors and shut down the computers. We had already closed out all the resisters and put away all the money except for one till at the customer service desk where the register was configured to handle any possible transaction. And the manager and I were both fully qualified at all operations. But it had been over an hour since we’d had a customer. We’d locked all the doors except for the main entrance where the two of were were camped out.
Yes, we had a few customers that evening, averaging about one an hour. We knew the customers personally. They were regulars who lived fairly close to the store. It was weird what they came in to buy, though – nothing you would expect someone to come out in a blizzard to purchase. We sold, five 2X4X8’s to one customer, for example. I mixed some paint for another customer. Most of what we did was answer the phone to inform people that yes, we were open. The number of calls received didn’t match the number of customers who showed up at the door, though.
Shortly before closing, a guy showed up wanting to fill out an employment application. Yeah, I’m serious. That happened. The manager thought it showed how much the guy needed a job. I told him it showed how nuts the guy was. Subsequently, the manager decided to hire the guy. He didn’t last long. My gut was right about him.
Once we had closed out the last register, put away the money, and closed down the computer system for the night, the manager and I said our goodbyes and be carefuls. It took him well over 2 hours to get home, a drive that normally took him 45 minutes. It took me 45 minutes to cover 7 miles. As I was heading north the storm was actually worse around my house than it was closer to the store. When I arrived home, my wife was sitting in the family room, watching something inane on TV. Obviously, she had been worried about me. Heck, I was worried about me, too. It wasn’t an easy drive at all. At times it was difficult to know for certain where the road was. But I’d made it. But what she said to me resonated and remained in the back of my mind for my remaining years with the company, especially every ensuing time I was asked to sacrifice my personal time and safety.
“That’s how much your company thinks of you.”