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Happiness Consultants Won’t Stop a Depression
Posted on Jul 27, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Anthony Vasquez, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, worked at FedEx Kinkos for about two years. His store’s slogan was: “Yes we can.”
“It meant that if a customer asked us to do a job for them, no matter what it was, we were to say ‘Yes we can!’ ” he said.
Posters of the slogan were posted on telephones and in the backroom. Corporate auditors enforced the slogan by “Yes we can” call audits. Employees would be punished as a group for failures, and individuals could be fired. Other slogans at the Santa Cruz, Calif., FedEx Kinkos included “Winning by engaging the hearts and minds of every team member” and “I promise to make every FedEx experience outstanding.”
Vasquez worked with a trainee named Sam until Sam was fired. The store managers didn’t announce the dismissal. They kept Sam on the schedule to make it appear he was skipping work and then used this as grounds for removal. After two weeks and some conversations with Sam, Vasquez wrote “Fired” in pencil under Sam’s name on the schedule. It was at that point that Vasquez got a taste of the ideology of modern corporate management, which uses therapeutic forms of social control and calls for group harmony to impose rigid conformity.
Angela and Nancy, the store managers, reprimanded Vasquez with a “positive discipline documentation form.” They charged him with defacing company property.
“The document explained how I had made ‘false or malicious statements’ against Sam,” said Vasquez. “Angela and Nancy looked at each other, breathed deeply, and asked if I had any comments. I told them they were being duplicitous and that nothing I wrote had been false or malicious. I told them that if they wanted to make our organization a success, they could start by paying me a fair wage. I went on and on until they both threw their hands in the air and told me to stop being difficult. I told them that I wasn’t the one being difficult. They stared hard at me and said, ‘We know.’ ”
Vasquez signed the document and left the office.
“It must have been in 2006, the company was holding another mandatory meeting for team members, which is what they call us,” he said. “I went with a couple of co-workers to Fresno, where we met a lot of other employees from various stores in Northern California. ... The meeting took place in this rented room, and the woman from corporate had all these toys, markers and candy in the middle of each table. The first thing she had us do was organize ourselves according to duration of employment at the company. While in this line, we had to introduce ourselves and say how long we had been working. The girl on the far end had been hired two months prior, the man on the other had been with the company for almost 20 years.”
Vasquez saw that some of his co-workers didn’t like having to speak about private, potentially embarrassing information. But the corporate manager tried to pump them up.
“She spun it so hard I felt dizzy,” said Vasquez. “ ‘Isn’t this wonderful? We have such a wide range of great team members. This really shows what a great place this is to work, and how you can make a career here!’ she said.”
“One man stared at the floor in anger and embarrassment,” Vasquez said. “If he had said anything, she would have e-mailed his center manager and he would have been written up and probably denied a raise. By the way, raises are 25 cents a year.”
“The purpose of the meeting was, her euphemisms aside, to push merchandise and services onto customers that they didn’t want. I believe it’s called upselling,” he said. “She wanted us to talk about our positive customer service experiences. Most of us struggled with this, as nearly all of our experiences with customers and the company had been extremely negative and stressful. But she was all smiles, no matter what we said, and I noticed she was able to make almost everyone there smile and laugh and have a good time. She used the toys, the candy, the markers, and activities like skits and competitions to get people active and involved with each other. She used the happiness and was able to switch its source from human interaction to the company. You aren’t happy because you are being social, you are happy because you work for the company.”
The driving ideology of corporate culture is a blind faith in the power and virtue of the corporate collective. All quotas can be met. All things are possible. Profits can always be raised. It is only a question of the right attitude. The highest form of personal happiness, we are told, is when the corporation thrives. Corporate retreats are built around this idea of merging the self with the corporate collective. They often have the feel of a religious revival. They are designed to whip up emotions. Office managers and sales staffs are given inspirational talks by sports stars, retired military commanders, billionaires and self-help specialists like Tony Robbins who tell them, in essence, the impossible is always possible. And when this proves not to be true, it is we who are the problem. We simply have to try harder.
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