Profit versus Meaningful Work?

Meaningful and Fulfilling Work

shopping cart At times there may seem to be a conflict between profit and meaningful work.  This is where the values of the leader come into play.  Here is an example of just that.

The board of the supermarket chain here in Massachusetts fired the CEO of the supermarket and replaced him with two other people. The employees refused to work for anyone except the former CEO. At the time this first happened I thought that their loyalty was remarkable. I still do.

Now over a month has gone by and the employees are still not working. The chain is a family business and the board is made up mostly of family members who are aligned with two different factions. One faction is with the former CEO who owns 49.5% of the company and the other faction is aligned with his cousin (Arthur S) who owns 50.5% of the company.

This family has been fighting for 10 years in and out of court. To say this firing is fueled by anger and vindictiveness is an understatement. At first I thought the striking employees were not working because their love of the former CEO (Artie T they call him). That is partially true.

The reason they love him though is because they have a secure job where they are well paid for what they do. Newspaper articles report that they get more money than most supermarket employees at other chains.

So because they are working for someone they admire and respect, get paid well for it and provide food at a reasonable price to the community, the work is meaningful and fulfilling to them.

Board Battles Affect Everyone

The board has 3 “independent non family members” one of whom recently shifted alliances so now the board favors the cousin who was not CEO (Arthur S).  Once he had the majority of the board under control he was able to fire his cousin.

It is not only the employees who are now affected by the strike. The stores can’t be restocked without employees at the warehouse filling the trucks. Truckers are out of work. Vendors can’t collect money that is owed them and can’t supply food because employees don’t unload the deliveries.

Customers are boycotting too. Meat and produce is gone but staples are still on the shelves of some stores. Prices have been very low compared to other supermarkets in the area so those who used to shop there have boycotted in the hopes that the market will return to the way it was before. This means shopping at more expensive places hopefully temporarily. (I have been doing this.)

What a tragedy! It is possible that everyone will lose in this. The supermarket is losing its value so the board members will lose money; the employees are not working so they also are losing money. Suppliers have no orders for goods so they lose money too. Customers will have to get used to higher food bills.

Lessons for those who want meaningful and fulfilling work

For those who want meaningful and fulfilling work what lessons can we learn here?

  • If you have a job that is meaningful and fulfilling be grateful but be aware. This family has been fighting over the company since the 1990s.
  1. Have a plan of what you will do if something happens to change the environment and working conditions where you work.
  • Meaningful relationships bring loyalty. Bad relationships are toxic. Artie T knew how to build strong relationships with the employees by learning their names and something about their lives. The employees continue to say that the business is like a family.
  1. Build relationships with people who share your values and feed those relationships. Bad relationships are toxic. Stay away from them. Good relationships help you to grow and thrive.
  • Vendors are suffering too. Many said that over 50% of their business was with this supermarket.
  1. If you are a business owner, be sure that you are not so dependent on one client or customer’s business. If that client/customer leaves, you may be forced into bankruptcy.
  • Members of the Board of Directors have a responsibility to make sure the company is profitable. According to reports in the newspaper this company was already profitable but the board members wanted it to be even more profitable. They were angry that the former CEO (Artie T) paid too much money to the employees in the form of bonuses and salary. They value profit over the work of the employees.
  1. Here is a conflict in the values of different factions of the board. It appears the former CEO values the employees and the board members aligned with his cousin value making the company more profitable. The board needs a good PR expert because this makes them look greedy and Artie T looks generous.
  • Artie T was a master at building a loyal and hardworking team. It is interesting that in the last decade that loyalty was lost in most other businesses.
  1. The lesson for business owners, members of boards of directors, CEOs, presidents, and managers is that your employees are a valuable resource. Treat them fairly and build a loyal hardworking organization.

In the end this has been sad for everyone involved. Neither faction is blameless. This will make an interesting business case for business schools. What do you think? Is it money over meaningful work for you? What have you learned from your experience?



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