Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Whole Foods and the Myth of the Workplace Team

Here's an interesting post that I came across from a guy that worked at Whole Foods in San Francisco. My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty by Nick Rahaim details some of his experiences working at Whole Foods. It's an interesting read. I think that there are a couple of interesting take-aways from the piece.

From his description, it sounds like a strong bond developed between co-workers. The irony is that, while many businesses try to build this kind of connection, in Whole Food's case, it appears that the unifying factor is salary and union concerns. Imagine if that weren't the case and, instead, that team approach was directed entirely toward the customer experience.

In the piece he references a store meeting where they are are given a "vote" on which benefits to cut because of "Obamacare." In the article, he points to Whole Food's stock price, but possibly a better indicator would be profitability. Essentially, shareholders reap increased profits on the backs of the underpayed "team" members. Its surprising that they don't fold more of that profit back into the engine of the business. And yet, this is the problem with the alignment between the performance of a stock and the "success" of the business.

There is another irony in that, Whole Foods tends to cater to an upscale customer, and that most are probably shopping there because they feel a sort of "harmonizing with all of society, hippy coop" sort of vibe. And Whole Foods exploits this image, through in-store experiences and interactions with the staff in the store. It's also part of the reason why people are willing to pay higher prices and Whole Foods is able to command higher margins than many of their competitors. What do you think the impact would be on the Whole Foods customer base if Whole Foods employees -- the friendly staff that the store's customers interact with -- were broadly thought to be treated in the same way as employees of Walmart? It seems like a rather precarious business strategy.

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