REI is known as very pro-employee
If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ve probably poked your head inside of an REI once or twice. Personal experience has dictated that the employees are incredibly knowledgeable, passionate about their areas of expertise, and generally enjoyable to talk to. One is left with the impression that the co-op—famous for its pro-employee practices—is functioning precisely the way it ought to.
Unfortunately, all may not be as it seems.
REI CEO Jerry Stritzke recently took part in one of reddit’s infamous AMAs, in which he announced his intentions to keep REIs closed on black Friday.
“Go easy on me… I’m new to reddit and have already learned the hard way that /r/Trees isn’t about the great outdoors,” he joked.
Then came the Reddit heat
After answering a few humorous questions, however, Stritzke was faced with a serious accusation from an alleged former employee:
“…I received top marks in my check ins, was eventually cross trained in every department, helped out with inventory preparations, stayed overnight to assist with store moves, and trained new batches employees in multiple departments. For a brief time my membership sales stagnated… I was denied a promotion because I did not sell enough memberships. I had my hours cut from 30 hours a week to less than 10…”
Another employee confirmed the surprising statement, saying “How many memberships you sell is the ONLY metric by which you will ultimately be measured… product knowledge, customer service skills, [and] overall work ethic are worth ZERO if you are not selling x number of memberships per shift.”
It didn’t take long for the dissent to begin rolling in.
On top of using flawless grammar, this employee’s seconding of the first’s affirmation perpetuated an avalanche of criticism in which a wave of former and current employees reamed into Stritzke’s business-centered practice strategies.
Perhaps REI isn’t as employee-centric as we thought
From these outbursts and the subsequent ones, it seems as though REI might not be as employee-centric as we initially thought. Obviously, this is a bit of a disappointment; though the co-op is renowned for several practice-related accolades—including their constant presence on “top 100 places to work” lists—one of their strongest selling points has always been their dedication to their employees and their customer base.
It’s clear that the damage has, in several cases, already been done, but there may be hope for those still working in REIs nationwide. “It’s an issue we’re currently focused on,” Stritzke said in a follow-up statement. “I plan to dig into the question more deeply. We will have a collective conversation about this issue. This will include conversations in our stores. If I’m not happy with what we find, we’ll make a change.”
Regardless of the aforementioned change that may or may not occur as a result of this public testimony, this situation should serve as a reminder to businesses of all sizes that, while your sales and membership numbers are important, the wellbeing of your employees and customers takes precedence. If your support base is strong, the money will follow.