Essential Employees See Decline in Corporate Culture

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, many states are currently living under lockdown, with Indiana in particular abiding by Governor Holcomb’s ‘stay-at-home order’. Residents are ordered to stay at home unless making essential trips for things like groceries, medical supplies, or reporting to essential jobs for essential tasks—all in the pursuit of reducing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. However, working persons across the nation are finding themselves in conflict with their employers regarding their compliance level with their state’s level of travel restrictions during the pandemic—landing some companies in hot water with their employees who have come forward citing a toxic corporate culture that some describe as choosing “profits over people.”

While the world watched China and Italy deal with devastating consequences of COVID-19, other countries like the United States struggled with how to respond. The Trump administration is currently facing criticism for the general handling of the pandemic with the consequences being felt across the nation. The homogenized body of information flowing from various sources, the compliance climate surrounding lockdowns has some businesses demonstrating their lack of understanding of what constitutes an “essential” job or business.

Media outlets of all shapes and kinds are publishing lists of essential jobs and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The list is much longer than many may think, with 35 different businesses and organizations deemed essential, from exterminators to funeral homes. One of the business types not on that list is recreational retail—businesses like GameStop, which sells video games, electronics, and gaming merchandise. Even after many states started initiating lockdowns, GameStop stores remained open, exposing employees and consumers alike to one another in reckless disregard for COVID-19 precautions. At the end of March, a former employee wrote an op-ed for Vice, detailing their declining relationship with the company over seven years, culminating with their departure after GameStop made the choice to keep stores open during the pandemic. Under the pseudonym “CT Collins”, the former employee described a corporate culture that was slowly deteriorating, “As corporate continued to increase expectations, associates began to lose motivation altogether. Since holidays alone, my store saw increased expectations in every metric we were tracked on, despite January and February being extraordinarily slow months…This despite the fact that our store had struggled to meet the previous targets, and our new game sales were nearly halved from the previous year.” Ahead of the highly-anticipated release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, GameStop certainly had an opportunity to recoup lost profits by remaining open during the launch of the popular life-simulator.

GameStop’s difficulty with the definition of “essential” has unflattering optics that demonstrate a level of indifference to their employees with regards to whether or not their contact with customers and each other can contribute to the rising epidemic of COVID-19. The op-ed by CT Collins already documented a declining corporate culture in which employees were trapped in a cycle of disengagement and apathy as a direct result of corporate expectations. Following the outcry from the employees, the decision was finally made to close GameStop stores in compliance with what has become known as “flattening the curve.” We can only hope that other businesses begin to revaluate how much of their daily operations can be conducted in the cloud—allowing employees to work from home and telecommute with the use of technology and business-to-business platforms.

GameStop is not the only retail giant getting bad press. Amazon has come under fire as a documented history of corporate culture issues, including an infamous incident in late 2019 in which an Amazon fulfillment associate died of cardiac arrest while on the warehouse floor and their fellow employees were told to “go back to work.” Now, an Amazon worker, Chris Smalls, has been fired for protesting the unsafe working conditions in the Staten Island warehouse where he works—one of the busiest in the nation. Given that millions now depend on delivery to get essential items, it’s not a surprise that Amazon is struggling, but employees are making their voices heard during these uncertain times, articulating their perceived lack of value to the corporation as many distribution centers fail to protect their employees from the spread of COVID-19.

Amazon is arguably essential as a distribution service that can put much-needed supplies in the hands of people who need them, but if the employees feel as if their employers have flagrant disregard for their health and safety, it should be no surprise that employees disengage and become vocal about their discomfort with the working environment. CEO Jeff Bezos has made repeated promises in the past to address the claims of toxic corporate culture within Amazon, but it seems that extraneous circumstances continue to bring out the very worst of capitalism within its distribution centers. As an “essential” business, Amazon has a responsibility to its employees to ensure they have a safe working environment by respecting social distancing protocol and providing safety equipment to protect them during the outbreak.

Disregarding restrictions set by the Center for Disease Control and other federal agencies during a pandemic as a non-essential business is a perfect storm for rapid deterioration of corporate culture. Even if the corporate culture was previously healthy within a company or organization, such blatant disregard for health and safety become a malignancy within the workforce, where employees do not feel valued, and disengage from their jobs, leading to further drop in productivity. To prevent this from happening to your company, the steps are really very simple:

  1. If you’re not one of the designated “essential” business types, it’s imperative to allow your employees to do as much work as possible from home, and close all brick-and-mortar locations that would allow the continued spread of COVID-19.
  2. If you are an “essential business,” carefully evaluate within the context of your business model constitutes an essential job or task. If it can be done over the phone, over email, or over video-conference, it should be.
  3. Take advantage of any opportunity to limit human contact. Keep all on-site workers a strict 6 feet apart, encourage heavy hand-washing and commitment to maintaining excellent sanitary conditions in the workspace.

The bottom line is that taking care of your essential employees in this uncertain time can only positively impact your workforce. When physical risk is not a part of the job description, it is easy for employees to feel inherently undervalued when they’re asked to risk their health in the interest of their job. Disregarding the limits put in place for the betterment of public health can only incite decline in your corporate culture.

 

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