Being raised in Sweden I have grown up with a view on employee rights that many people would probably be surprised over. In examples there is the right to four consecutive weeks of holidays during summer and the right to stay home with a descent amount of your salary with your kids up to 480 days on maternity, and even more impressive paternity leave. Of course this is just on paper if you are running your own business, but still compared to most countries in the world and when talking to colleagues here in Gibraltar everyone is amazed of it. A year ago, still being in Sweden I would probably not even have thought of writing a blog post like this. In fact, I would probably write a blog post about how ridiculous all these rights are in Sweden and how they are negatively impacting the results and how competitive Sweden is as a country.
It might have been that the social security in Sweden have got me to see things from a different angle or it might just have been that I had a very naive view of the reality when this happened. However, for me it have always been very important to feel appreciated for what I do. When talking with a friend of mine I remembered a situation that happened close to 8 years ago, when a company because of very bad management lost a very ambitious and a great employee, me.
At this time I was working in a retail store within the games industry. The chain was investing heavily opening new branches on several locations in Sweden, one of them being the small town where I lived and studied. Unfortunately they had not invested in any air condition in which case this whole story might have ended different. It was in the middle of the summer, early August if I remember correctly, one of the few really hot summers in Sweden. My boss, the manager of my store was a young and ambitious boss and he was on his first well deserved holiday. This left me as a part time employee alone in the store for a month working 10 hour shifts 7 days a week (due to earlier mentioned laws in Sweden giving you 4 consecutive weeks of holidays). The dress code at this company was a shirt with long sleeves and tie. As this store was located in the middle of a commercial outlet with a really poor ventilation it became rather hot in the store. So hot that most of the few customers that did not stay out to enjoy the weather turned around and left as soon as they felt the heat.
This was the day after I had relocated to a new apartment together with my wife (by this time my rather new girlfriend). This makes it possible, not only for me to remember that his must have been in the beginning of August, as we moved together the 1st of August but also that I for the first time since I started working in this company did not wear a tie. The reason was that they were all packed down, except a very ugly one with horizontal stripes. My shirt was having vertical stripes and together it looked a bit…unconventional. So I actually skipped the tie for this one time. It was still rather hot in the store and as we had too few people hired as substitutes (I was one of them) I had not had lunch yet, as I could not leave the shop to go to eat.
Now when I think back of it, it is probably a law that would handle that as well, but as I said, I do not have a history of caring very much about employee rights or involving the union. Anyway, I was standing this afternoon with the conditions described above and was doing one of these things that I today hate when someone working in a shop is doing. I was reading! I was reading in a book regarding a role playing game that one of my regular customers had asked me about earlier that day. As the whole outlet was close to empty I decided to take this time to read through the book to find the answer for my customer that promised to come back later.
I barely noticed this man that in my eyes was a bit too old to be in a game store and he really did not look very interested. Rather strolling around in lack of better things to do. Being a swede I know that the worst thing I can do in this situation would be to ask him if he wanted help as that would probably generate the standard answer;
-“No, I am just looking”, and the expression on his face that looks like he just saw his dead wife, naked in front of him, and he would quickly run away from the store.
(Any swede reading this will know this is true even though it sounds a bit exaggerated to anyone else)
Suddenly when I was looking through a rather interesting piece of the book that most likely involved drawings of rather lightly dressed elves this man comes and with a very loud voice says;
-“Are you supposed to work here?”, while he slams a game in the cashier. I probably got the same expression in my face that I did not want to see in his face.
He continues and presents himself as the CEO of the company. Being a multi-billion company that operates globally this is a rather impressive title, and by his presence and with the authority in which he acts I have no reason at all to doubt his words. He complains about the lack of service from me telling me that he have been in the store for almost a minute with no help from me. I try to explain my reason behind it but I soon find myself talking to deaf ears. The boss have found something else that brought his attention. My missing tie! After another failed attempt to communicate with him about the reason to why I am not having a tie this day he makes a big mistake talking to someone like me that are already exhausted, hungry and very warm.
-“If you are not dressed to work, do not come to work!”
My instant answer to this was something I really do not think he was expecting (and to be honest, I would probably not have expected from myself either);
-“Then I quit!”
I felt at this time that if he does not even care to listen to me, why would I care about working there. Looking back it might be seen as an over reaction from me. However, I am still proud that I stood up for my principles this time. Later I got an excuse from the boss and I worked a few more weeks to allow my boss to find a replacement for me, but the damage was already done. Today I can really understand the problems the CEO saw in my work and my appearance, but it is not about this the story is about. It is about being heard and at least value your employees enough to hear out their stories before doing anything drastic.
I have always high esteems of myself, but I also think I have a reason to do that looking back at my successes so far. I think for a growing company like this I was the perfect employee, working hard for a rather low salary. I only had one more year left at university until I would take my exam in economics towards marketing, which I think is a very good education for someone in this position, and I was ambitious to grow within the company. Now the 8 months I had worked there and the time and money they had invested in me was wasted. Instead I decided to focus more on my education and other interests I had which eventually led me in to the path I have taken so far. The company with the old brand name does not exist in Sweden anymore (they got bought by another company) and last time I checked the employees did not have any shirts or ties, but rather more appropriate t-shirts. I wonder if they have installed air condition as well, but most importantly, if they nowadays treat their employees to their full value?