Tuesday, January 18, 2005

George: The Rest of the Story

I'm strapped for time tonight (I'm behind on my homework, as usual), so I'll take this opportunity to finish off my tale of outrage and woe from my time working for George twenty years ago.  The following is partly cribbed from one of the ethics papers I wrote last week, and illustrated with the blurry photos of Store #1 that I managed to find tonight.
As you may recall, George is the one who gave me grief instead of sympathy after I did my best to protect his interests while being robbed at gunpoint.  But that's far from the sum of my complaints about my former employer.

part of my contest-winning Prince display George's basic stance was that if anything went wrong, it was somebody else's fault.  He made unreasonable demands, and pounced if you didn't meet them.  Certain favored employees were treated well, while the rest of us were criticized at every opportunity.  "I have to be perfect this week" was something I often said to myself, as I tried to avoid the man's further wrath after some real or imagined mistake on my part. 
The unfair and preferential treatment issue can be illustrated by the bonus program he set up circa 1984.  George forbade anyone to take notes about it (Sue did it anyway), deliberately set the goals so high that certain stores could not possibly meet them, and fudged the numbers so that only two of the six stores got the bonuses--including the small one managed by, you guessed it, his favorite employee.

The morning checklist was another good example of the problems George's employees faced.  This was a list of about twelve or fourteen tasks to be done in each record store each morning, from setting up the register and opening the door to vacuuming and dusting.  To do it all with with reasonable diligence would require about forty minutes of steady work, if nobody came into the store in all that time to demand your attention. So, when George came into a store and said, "Take fifteen minutes this morning to do a really good checklist," he was clearly asking the impossible.

Which leads me back to the other incident I started to tell you about last week:

Where's the sorceror's apprentice when you need him?The Set-Up:

As you may recall, I was managing Store #1 at a time when the company was having severe cash flow problems.  To stock his other stores with records, even though they were catalog titles rather than current bestsellers, George decided to remove all the records, prerecorded tapes and just-invented CDs from Store #1. We then moved the record bins around to create a smaller sales floor, kicking up dust in the process, and stocked it with silk wall hangings, T-shirts and other peripheral items.  I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon cleaning, and then passed this task on to Chris to do all evening as well.

Part of my contest-winning Springsteen display. Note the ticket counter, an obvious target for robbery.The next day, George demoted me from shift supervisor (and de facto manager) to ticket girl, in an attempt to goad me into quitting. The excuse given was that on the day after the record bins were moved, Store #1 was a dusty mess.  I'd dusted my heart out, trying to mitigate the fact that moving furniture after eleven years will inevitably put dust into the air, which will eventually settle again all over the place.  Clearly I was not at fault, but George never let facts or fairness get in the way of a good scapegoating. My ethical dilemma was this: should I allow myself to be maneuvered into quitting, bringing economic hardship on my family but saving George money, or stay and defend myself against the false charges?

The decision hinged on both ethical principles and practical ones:

Ethical Principles:

1. Altruism.  Despite everything, I still felt some sympathy toward George, and knew that his financial situation was poor.  Removing myself from his payroll would help the company stay afloat a little longer.  This would benefit George and his remaining employees, who would be more likely to get their paychecks. However, quitting before I had another job prospect would financially harm another innocent stakeholder, my own husband, John. George was far from innocent, but his employees deserved to be paid.  The greater good seemed in this case to indicate that, as Spock famously said in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few—or the one.”

2.  Integrity.  To make a stand for truthfulness, another ethical value, can be an act of integrity, especially if a person behaves this way consistently. Although I am sometimes guilty of not volunteering uncomfortable truths, I try never to lie to anyone. To allow George to lie about why he wanted me to quit, impugning my workmanship and my truthfulness in process, was an affront to my sense of integrity.  To quit seemed at the time to be condoning his lie, but it could be argued that accepting the demotion and staying on gave the lie equal creedence.

Practical and Selfish Considerations:

Store #1, featuring the Prince display again. Arguing for my quitting was the opportunity to selfishly reduce my stress over a job that had become nearly intolerable, and take a “vacation” from working while I looked for another job.  On the other hand, a self-serving motive for not quitting was a desire to avoid a loss of income.  Another was my psychological need to defend myself from George’s false changes.  It may be argued that refusing to quit was to make a stand for the truth, but there was a selfish component to this stance.  Furthermore, neither alternative was likely to cause to George admit the truth.  In addition, there was a temptation to “spite George” by refusing to do what he wanted, a vengeful, malicious, unethical (but psychologically understandable) response to the situation.

Alternatives and Consequences:

There were only two alternatives in this situation: to quit, or to refuse to quit.  Quitting would have the negative consequence of reducing my family’s income, and the positive consequence (for others) of reducing company expenses, enhancing George’s ability to meet payroll. It also would give George the opportunity to disparage me to other employees, without me around to refute his claims.  Refusing to quit would protect my household income, keep me on hand to protect my reputation, and thwart George’s dishonest behavior. The negative consequences would be increased stress for me, more strain  on company finances,  which would ultimately harm other employees, and the possibility of being fired.

The Decision:

Initially, I told George that I could not afford to quit until I found another job. After this conversation, however, John encouraged me to quit, saying that we could manage without the income for a short time. I called George back and quit. I even wished him luck.  Afterward, I found myself getting more and more angry with him.  I was tempted to call George again and berate him for his dishonesty, but John convinced me to let my previous, “classy” last words to him stand.  (When I mentioned this to John last week, he was amazed that he ever said such a thing.)

The Aftermath:

I soon got a job with National Record Mart, where I was appreciated and treated well. I kept that job until John and I left town on our big trip of 1986, driving around with Jenny Dog, looking for a place where it wasn't winter.

Some time after I Ieft town, George was arrested for check kiting.  In an effort to keep the record store chain going, he and his wife had written over eight million dollars in checks back and forth between two overdrawn accounts over a period of six weeks.  I guess the $4.00 an hour he saved by getting me to quit wasn't enough to save him.


See also:
Bashing George
Robbery, Part Two


deabvt said...

Now, I`ll bet that`s an "A" paper!

ryanagi said...

Hope he went to prison. :-)

jeff466 said...

Sounds like you handled the whole thing great and that George fell victim to what comes around goes around.  I have an ex boss that I felt like making that second call to after I quit.  Now that I look back I'm glad I didn't-I would have said things that woudln't have been classy!

I agree, sounds like an A paper to me :)

http://pointclickjeff.blogspot.com/  Jeff