Like any job, there were periods of doom and gloom at the company when it seemed that things could not get worse followed by periods of relative calm. Ideas and policies both good and bad would come and go. Some (the good ones) were short-lived and others (the bad ones) lingered longer than they should have. In time, the periods of gloom were more prevalent than those of calm.
The company was once a publicly-traded one that grew from a small market entity into a national brand. Their growth from the west coast to the east coast created the need for a facility that could handle the new territory. They located and purchased a facility in Fort Wayne that met their logistical needs.
Some friends of mine knew a big shot at the operating center during a time when the facility was going through a growth spurt and badly needed new workers. This coincided with my desire to leave my job at that time and the desire to relocate to Fort Wayne. My friends got me in touch with the big shot and before I knew it I was calling Fort Wayne home.
The new job was a bit overwhelming at first. It was a team system that allowed the front line worker to be part of the decision making process. We were expected to be involved and had many opportunities via leadership roles or committee involvement. We had a say in a coworker’s status when they screwed up. Pay increases were based on learning new jobs. It was a pretty good system that ultimately had a short shelf life.
One of the best parts of the job was the appreciation shown to the employees. Four months after I hired in, the two top dogs of the company threw a huge party at the company’s headquarters to celebrate the achievement of a large goal. They flew in every employee from across the country. I was left stunned by this. When pressed, they committed to another huge party if another, larger goal were met. Locally, we received steak dinners, cookouts, t-shirts, and other knick knacks for achieving goals. It was a good feeling to be appreciated for a change.
As the company grew bigger, though, the perks grew smaller. Little things were taken away one at a time. They chipped away at our incentive pay a few percentage points each year. Meals for goals met were no longer in vogue. The larger goal was met but there was no big party to celebrate it. The appreciation we once felt was becoming nonexistent.
This new trend literally became writing on the wall when a new manager came along and decided it was time to change the plant’s mission statement. The old statement, “Stimulate Challenge Empower”, was all about the employee. Some may not have seen any significance in this simple statement, but I sure did. My interpretation of the statement was thus: “Stimulate your workers to be productive by Challenging them to achieve goals and Empower them to do so by allowing them to think outside the box and to make decisions closest to the point of impact.” This statement had a profound effect on me and my attitude towards my job.
The new manager called together a committee comprised of about two dozen people that represented a cross-section of the entire plant. He led them to a new statement that took a couple of weeks to settle on. Their meetings were often held in the break room for all to see. What little I saw was not good as the meetings were much more about the manager steering the group towards what he wanted rather than moving organically. In the end the key phrase of the new statement centered on improving the stockholder’s share value. They printed and framed the statement, hanging it in the break room for all to behold.
Gone was the focus on the employee. From there it only got worse.
Somewhere around Year 8 during my tour with the company, the two top dogs made a ridiculous commitment to grow the company’s share value to an unprecedented level. The stock grew to an inflated price. A global corporation took notice and bought the company, making the two top dogs ridiculously wealthy. They wished us well then sailed their yachts into the sunset.
We were naive enough to believe that the big corporation with big pockets would take us back to a time when we were appreciated. How silly of us. The nadir of appreciation came when our HR guy promised us his awesome gumbo but cancelled it because the shrimp had gone bad. We ate hot dogs instead.
Where we were once treated as equals, we were now treated as second-graders. We were still expected to be involved but things had become so bad that no one outside of relatively new employees wanted to get involved. We were now forced into involvement which is, really, the best way to get the best out of people. We no longer had a say in a coworker’s fate. Hug a friend who happens to be a higher up too hard? You’re fired. Show frustration in a manner that everyone else has at one point in front of the wrong person? You’re fired. Post a picture of a rival’s product? You’re fired, not because of the picture (we’re not that thin-skinned) but because of the disruption it caused.
The big corporation with big pockets put new programs in place and made periodic audits to make sure we were following the new standards. It seemed we were becoming a company focused less on making a quality product for the consumer. It seemed we were now making the product just so we could perform the myriad tasks that had nothing to do with the production of our product.
The silliest among these tasks was writing out short lessons. Depending on where you worked in the plant or what level of job you performed, you were expected to write four of these lessons per month. The idea was that they could be a tool for teaching others certain aspects of their jobs. What they really were was a waste of paper. Reams and reams of paper. Someone wrote a lesson telling people not to text and drive. Another lesson told us how to hang a ladder on hooks. One that was lauded as a great example of a lesson was how to properly wear a hairnet. The guy who wrote it did so thinking it would be rejected for being too stupid. Instead, he received a lot of ribbing from the rest of us for becoming a company guy.
Even the people who were tasked with making sure we wrote the lessons could not explain the real value of creating so many of them, especially when the level of redundancy of the lessons was incredibly high. The line was that the company wanted us to get into a mind set to look for things that needed improvement and blah blah blah blah blah. In the meantime, things are running like crap and we’re losing product but everything is okay because you’re writing a lesson about how to tie your boots properly. Don’t sweat it, pal.
All of this is a long-winded (and a little bit tongue in cheek) microcosm of the problems that led to my decision to leave my job. I could talk to two dozen coworkers who have left employment or are still there toiling away and hear just as many unique stories of the problems that exist there. Of the ones who left, some left of their own accord, others were escorted out the door. All of those whom I’ve spoken to have said the same thing. Leaving there, regardless of their reason for doing so, was like having a tremendous weight lifted off of their shoulders. All of them encouraged me to get out. I desperately wanted to leave but the few good perks we had left were enough to keep me there.
In Year 19 the company finally managed to topple that first domino that led me to leave.