What was intended as an opportunity to bask in goodwill over the co-op’s move to close stores on Black Friday transformed into a public airing of grievances by scores of angry employees.
Jerry Stritzke, chief executive of REI, hosted a question-and-answer session on the website Reddit this week to discuss his decision to keep stores closed on Black Friday. But what was intended as an opportunity to bask in goodwill over the move transformed into a public airing of grievances by scores of angry employees.
The “Ask Me Anything” sessions are among the most popular features on Reddit, a freewheeling social media site, and they allow prominent people like celebrities and politicians to field unfiltered questions from the common (and anonymous) folks of the Internet. But an AMA, as it is known, can quickly slip out of a host’s control.
Stritzke answered questions from users for about two hours Tuesday. But after he signed off, the conversation became dominated by accounts of negative experiences that some employees said they had had on the job, a spokesperson for the Kent-based sporting goods cooperative said.
The primary accusation from Reddit users who said they had worked for REI was that the co-op penalizes employees who fail to sell enough memberships and denies them opportunities to get ahead even if they are highly qualified in other areas.
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“I have to admit the emphasis on membership sales was a surprise to me when I joined the co-op two years ago,” Stritzke wrote on the site in a lengthy response to an anonymous Reddit user who wrote under the name “annonemp.”
Stritzke said that by focusing so much on membership sales, the company “may have lost sight of the bigger picture.”
In annonemp’s post, one of the forum’s highest voted, the user described being denied a promotion and having hours cut after “my membership sales stagnated,” despite receiving otherwise high performance reviews.
“It was like somebody flipped a switch,” the user wrote.
The critique set off a wave of hundreds of similar stories from other disgruntled workers. One user wrote that his time working at REI was “one of the most profoundly disappointing experiences of my life.”
Stritzke assured the forum that he was paying close attention to concerns over the emphasis on membership sales. He said employees should be judged foremost on their “skill, deep outdoor knowledge and customer service.”
In a post written on an internal company blog Wednesday, Stritzke said he believed that “the conversation about membership sales is legitimate.” He said the company’s management would be “digging in further” and studying the issue.
“You need to know that as we discuss this, if we decide that something needs to be changed, we will change it,” he wrote. “One way or another, we will talk more about it.”