Do the right thing

Someone I know quit her job this week because some idiot jobsworth decided to assert her authority.

We’ll call her Rose. Rose was a Floral Merchandiser. That’s a posh way of saying she worked for a company contracted to provide plants and flowers to one of the largest supermarkets in New Zealand’s lower North Island. Two or three times a week flowers would be delivered and it was her job to open, sort, cut and put them out on display. She was expected to do that in ten hours per week at $17 an hour.

It became evident several months ago that doing the job in ten hours was all but impossible. You see, Rose is a bit of a perfectionist and takes pride in what she does. She wanted her displays to be appealing and she wanted to grow the sales. This was a new arrangement for the supermarket and they also had some specific ways they wanted things done and displayed.

Her area supervisor agreed she could claim for some extra hours in recent weeks as she was growing her sales. She was good at it and sales grew 25% in both of the last two weeks. For the roughly $200 a week she was earning, she was generating over 5k of revenue.

That was until a jobsworth in head office sent her an email on Sunday night demanding that she not claim for extra hours without her supervisor’s approval (which she had), that her latest claim for additional hours would not be paid and that she should never go into work on a day she was on annual leave (as she had done recently to unpack some boxes her leave cover ran out of time to do – no, she couldn’t do the job in the allotted hours either). The job had to be done in ten hours per week.

These instructions were barked in capitals. She quit, in tears, worn down by the constant questioning of her time sheets and lack of acknowledgement of her sales growth or the value she added. She was totally expendable and utterly exploited. My expert HR advice was to tell them to get stuffed.

This morning I caught the bus to the station as I always do. It was empty when myself and a lady got on which is a little unusual. There were two people standing at the next stop but the driver didn’t stop. I called out to him and pointed out he had missed a stop. He told me it was OK. He stopped at the next stop and four other people got on.

After that he sailed past every stop where people were waiting. As we got to the station he explained there had been a late change of roster and he was running late. Well, so what? He could have picked all those people up, they would have caught their train and he might have been two or three minutes later.

It got me thinking about why it is that our workplaces are so full of people so afraid of stepping outside of the rules and procedures and doing the right thing by people. In the case of the bus company, I should report it to someone but the last time I did that via their website they didn’t reply or respond. All my experiences with them point to the fact that they don’t care what their customers think.

Their main purpose where I live is to deliver people to and from the railway station, but if a train is a few minutes late in the evening they will just drive off, even when they can see the train coming. They HAVE to stick to the timetable and can’t go a minute over their shift. Them’s the rules. Common sense, customer service and basic courtesy doesn’t come into the equation.

In the case of Rose’s former employer, someone from HR rang her after she had submitted her resignation and apologised for how she had been treated, acknowledged that it should have been handled differently and said steps were being taken to ensure that didn’t happen again. While that was nice, the point is their structure and process is all about command and control. Using your initiative is not in the profitability spreadsheet.

They’ve lost a really good employee who cared about what she did and was a good ambassador for the company. For what? The cost of replacing her, loss of sales and training her replacement far outweighs the cost of a few extra hours she worked each week to get the job done. But hey, the job has to be done in ten hours. The company rules say so. Their time and motion people have worked it out. The hours are set to match the likely revenue and of course every supermarket is the same. Yes, really.

We are a long way from having really good work practices across the board. It might be me, but the gap seems to be widening between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Until using your initiative and doing the right thing becomes part of every job description, every set of company values, every induction process, every staff/management training course and every HR person’s mantra, we really can’t expect any better.

2 thoughts on “Do the right thing

  1. “My expert HR advice was to tell them to get stuffed” – keepin’ it real – love it!

    Yea, the notion of ‘do the right thing’ sounds good on paper, sounds good at every company keynote, but the real life on the ground scenario (sadly in many cases) is that work is being managed by often arbitrary rules and numbers… good people doing good work, daring to making things better told to get back in the box. Absolutely killing peoples passion and creativity.

    I hope she found an amazing job where they appreciate her!

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