When I was younger, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school every day. I didn’t really know what it meant or how significant of a promise it was, but I stood with my hand over my heart and uttered those 31 words while looking up at the American flag. As I’ve gotten older, I finally realize what those words mean and how important loyalty is.
Loyalty is a quality to be admired and sought after. We look for mates who promise to be faithful and devoted. We lean on our friends who’ve “got our backs” when we need a little support. We praise pets, particularly dogs, for being by our side through thick and thin. We expect people to be loyal, but what about companies?
Last week, I returned to my former place of employment to do a little shopping. While I was there, I saw two of my favorite team members, Carlos and Reba. I was immediately shocked to see them in such a sad state and asked what was wrong. As it turns out, Reba had just been fired the day before, after twelve years of faithful and dependable service.
I was shocked. Reba had always been one of my best and most reliable shift leaders. She was always on time, great with the customers, and had such an upbeat and friendly attitude, it was hard not to like her. When I heard that she was fired because she was too busy helping customers that she forgot to take her lunch break before the fifth hour, I was pissed.
I understand that businesses are all about making money and it’s about making sure the customer is happy, but this was just ridiculous. When I was a manager in the store, I witnessed many employees worry that they had to take their lunch breaks, but no one was available to relieve them. It was drilled into us in training that we, as managers, were to make sure the hourly team members got their breaks in a timely manner. As a salaried employee, I spent many times stuck on a register or at the customer service desk in order to ensure everyone had their breaks. It’s just what I did to promote guest and employee satisfaction.
The hourly folks were trained to provide the utmost levels of customer service. They were expected to be helpful and courteous, with a smile on their faces. Now, here was one of the better employees, being terminated because she was so busy providing great service that she clocked out for lunch a few minutes late. What bullshit! Unfortunately, this was not the first time I had seen it.
You see, California has a rule about taking a lunch break before the fifth hour of work begins. If that break is not taken in time, the employee is to be paid a meal premium of one hour’s pay. This retailer earns billions each year and could stand to lose $10-15 for the seldom occurrence when an employee, while providing the level of service the company demands, has to take a late lunch. Unfortunately, the “Fifth-Hour Rule” is written into the employment policy and one that is taken very seriously. One instant gets a warning, the next leads to termination.
Now, I get that warnings are issued and that Reba had received her one-time warning, but it hurt my heart to see my middle-aged workers in tears as their team was being broken up and they felt their current management was not there to support them. They felt they had given so much of themselves to this job and if something life this could happen to one of them, what chance did the other “old-schooler” have to survive?
I wish I worked in an age when company’s were still loyal to their employees, when a staff member worked for the same organization for their entire career. I’m not sure when the loyalty broke down between the two, but to see these revenue giants treat their workers like easily replaced cogs in the machine, I am saddened that I will never experience the love for work that my grandparents did. The workforce, both laborers and corporations, has changed and there’s no going back.
But sometimes, I wish we could.