October 11, 2015

Urban Outfitters

You've heard about this one, undoubtedly (click here).

Twenty five years ago at Lands' End, we were asked to pick/pack/ship orders in early December ... no, not on the weekend ... but on a non-descript Tuesday. I distinctly recall picking the order, setting the order aside, packing the order form, zipping the envelope, and sending the sewn package down the line. Then I looked in front of me ... three items sat there, lonely. Somewhere in Minnesota, a perfectly humble Protestant family received a package containing only an order form / receipt. Merry Christmas from Lands' End!! Moments later, I was relieved of my duties ... not as a statistical analyst ... but as a distribution center employee.

During a seventeen inch snowstorm, I committed myself to shoveling a whole road so that I could get to work. I got to work, and was promptly re-directed to one of our call centers. I took two orders ... TWO ... and messed them up so bad that I was relieved of my duties ... not as a statistical analyst ... but as a call center employee. I was reassigned to the switchboard, where my skills were more than adequate to handle the complete lack of incoming corporate call traffic on a snow day.

At Nordstrom, we were required to work sale events. Yup, there's Kevin, working in a women's apparel department at Northgate Mall, stocking shelves, taking abandoned merchandise out of dressing rooms, and answering questions I was completely unqualified to address ("why does this fit different in a size eight from this item that is a size six, when it's the same brand?"). I hated every minute of this work, work that happened three times a year for six consecutive years.

At Avenue A, it was expected that employees worked eighty hour workweeks. I recall the twenty-three year olds showing up at 9:30am, going home at 9:30pm, playing ping pong for three hours at a time. I worked 6:30am - 5:00pm. I recall being asked why I wasn't "committed to the mission?" I recall asking how a twelve hour workday that included three hours of ping pong helped increase shareholder value when I was working straight through a shorter day? No answer to that response, of course.

At the Garst Seed Company, we were required to work additional hours on weekends in October to handle "harvest season". We'd receive a bumper crop of data that could not be analyzed in the requisite fifty-five hour work week, so Saturday and Sunday were required work days in October. I recall having a weekend trip planned - I did not show up for required weekend work, and it didn't help my career one bit ... "what is wrong with you, don't you know that this is 'harvest' and you have to work weekends?"

Salaried employee are required to donate time for free. Show of hands - how many of you worked just forty hours last week? I get emails from east coast folks time-stamped at 10:30pm. I get emails from west coast folks at 5:30am. My team at Nordstrom FTP'd files at 2am on a Sunday Morning - a day of rest, no less. 

There is no rest for a salaried marketing employee.

There is nothing uncommon about what Urban Outfitters asked salaried employees to do. Sure, it appears distasteful. Sure, it might be a way for the finance team to celebrate yet another cost-cutting measure. But most salaried employees are already being abused through the magic of a sixty-hour workweek and non-stop on-call availability. 

The question isn't whether what Urban Outfitters is doing is right/wrong. The question is how did we get to a point where salaried employees are expected to work sixty or more hours a week, seven days a week no less - essentially not being paid for a third of the work they already do? It's harder to answer that question. It's easier to point to Urban Outfitters instead.

Look at your own career. How many hours north of forty do you feel compelled to volunteer, for free?