Service of When a Company Listens to its Employees–or Not

May 24th, 2021

Categories: Books, Employees, Management

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

I knew a successful stockbroker who traveled the country at a time in which we manufactured a lot. He’d visit a corporation to speak with the employees on the line. He wasn’t interested in the boilerplate management wanted to share.

Today, employees voice their opinions of management’s decisions–some say even more than before.

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Emily Glazer described a recent to and fro in their Wall Street Journal article “Inside the Simon & Schuster Blowup Over Its Mike Pence Book Deal.”

The article’s subhead reads: “Petition demanded publisher drop potential blockbuster, saying it betrayed company’s promise to oppose bigotry, while CEO defended commitment to broad range of views ” They reported that 14 percent of the staff–200–signed a petition. “While the majority of employees didn’t sign the petition,” wrote Trachtenberg and Glazer, “it continues drawing external support and now has more than 5,000 external signatories.”

They wrote: “The Pence conflict stands out because the demand struck at the heart of the publisher’s business. Book companies, which have long prized their willingness to publish a wide range of voices, in contrast to the silos of cable news, say they need blockbuster books of all stripes to carry the rest of their titles.”

In addition, they reported that Jonathan Karp, president and CEO, “said one reason Simon & Schuster is comfortable publishing Mr. Pence is that the former vice president refused to take an action to overturn the election.” He told staffers in an online gathering “there wouldn’t be any discriminatory content in Mr. Pence’s book.”

“In January,” wrote the reporters, “the company canceled the publication of a book by Sen. Hawley, citing his role in challenging the presidential election results on Jan. 6, when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.” Quoting Karp this was because “his actions ‘led to a dangerous threat to our democracy.’ He said the senator’s role in that day’s events ‘brought widespread disapproval and outrage to him and would have redounded to us.’”

Image by Natalia Ovcharenko from Pixabay

The reporters shared other examples referring to a pause in political contributions by Microsoft through 2022 to legislators who opposed certification of the electoral college, a move resulting from an employee’s appeal.

They mentioned that “Similar pressures [to address employee demands] have ricocheted across the business world,” mentioning  Apple, Delta Air Lines and Google. They didn’t specify the dynamics but in a Google search I found that:

  • Apple bowed to employee pressure to rescind its job offer to the author of a memoir in which he wrote disparaging things about women.
  • According to Shirin Ghaffary in vox.com, Google agreed to “scrap forced arbitration in individual cases of sexual harassment or assault after 20,000 Google workers staged a walkout demanding changes to how it treats employees. The walkout was prompted by a New York Times article that revealed Google had given a senior executive, Andy Rubin, a $90 million exit package even after it found he had been credibly accused of sexual harassment…..Employees who prefer to arbitrate privately will still have that option.”
  • Delta replaced uniforms for 60,000 employees because some claimed the originals made them sick.
  • On the other hand, CEO Jamie Dimon suggested that any of his employees who pushed him to restrict doing business with the military could leave JPMorgan Chase, Trachtenberg and Glazer reported.

Should corporations act on what employees request? Have you changed an employer or corporation’s mind about a major decision or can you name other examples where this happened?

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

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8 Responses to “Service of When a Company Listens to its Employees–or Not”

  1. BC Said:

    The only possible comparison in medicine might be when the hospital nurses were thinking about joining a union, the powers in charge gave them a raise and better bennies. That was in the last century tho.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    So the hospital listened. I was on the board of a co-op that was self-managed. We had round-the-clock doorman coverage and a porter/handyman. We exceeded vacation days/benefits that the union agreed to because we didn’t want the union either. The job is stressful and exhausting–though nursing would be far more in all ways–and we kept staff for years.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    One would expect a publisher to hire employees with a basic knowledge of the Constitution, so such ignorance, as described, should be rewarded with a pink slip.

    Since when is it correct to ignore the right to free speech? Because we don’t like who’s talking? Because we want to deny the public to read what doesn’t appeal to us?

    I see the former Vice-President as less than admirable, but not only are there those who strenuously disagree, there are those who simply want to hear what he has to say. Since when are these employees fit to judge, let alone dictate what the public wants to read?

    Issues such as safety, health, salary scales and assorted benefits should and will be considered by a responsible employer, possibly with employee assistance. Failure to have done so in the past has resulted in unions, and rightly so.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I can’t imagine a company with three or more people with 100 percent agreement 100 percent of the time. The woman or man at the top where the buck stops should make the final decision. The CEO nixed the Sen. Hawley book because of his role in challenging the presidential election results. He surely weighed the pros and cons of Pence’s book.

    As a board member, you might vote against the winning vote and you have a choice: stay and be quiet or leave. Employees expressed their opinions and they have the same choice. The CEO listened and didn’t agree.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Remember Savonarola? He was a fanatic monk burned at the stake in 1494. Angry Florentines grew impatient with what they considered overly religious strictures and acted accordingly. Centuries later, a high school history teacher warned that suppression of ideas often chased them underground where they grew and eventually prevailed. She gave Bismarck’s party as an example. Suppression is dangerous. It won’t be the least bit entertaining if we must learn the hard way.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    The trick is to be able to live and act in a civilized manner if you don’t get your way. The employees aren’t punished for disagreeing with the boss that we know of. That is the most important takeaway from the discussion. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Delta all made changes as a result of raised hands.

    Those who protested their employer publishing the Pence book don’t have to buy or read it. The ones who want to read the Hawley book that the CEO passed on can read it as another publisher picked it up.

  7. MarthaTakayama Said:

    re fundamental matters of labor relations: Listening to employees in deciding what to publish or not publish is a very different matter. Being employed by a company does not give you editorial rights. It also does not give you the right to determine how to determine your company’s marketing strategy. An employee can also choose not to work for a company that engages in practices or derives profit from something he or she finds objectionable. I have not changed the mind or direction of any employer I have worked for. I have not applied to certain companies nor for certain jobs that I would have found uncomfortable.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I have not pitched companies for the reason you state because what they are promoting is not something I want anything to do with. Colleagues I’ve known and admired in the PR business are the same. Even when approached about a big piece of business, they refuse to go forward when their philosophies don’t mesh with the prospect’s.

    The Microsoft example impressed me. As I wrote in the post, the company placed a pause in political contributions through 2022 to legislators who opposed certification of the electoral college, a move resulting from an employee’s appeal.

    I expect only one thing from a client: that he/she listen to a suggestion I make. Most are of minor consequence. Some of these they accept, others not. If the issue involves dodgy ethics or in any way compromises my reputation, and their explanation to move forward as-is is insufficient, I have resigned accounts.

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