Actions Speak Louder than Signs

Macy's Logo

I found that I had to buy a mattress today. What fun. After a wonderful shopping experience at a number of discount places that didn’t have what I wanted, but whose employees sure had plenty of attitude, I ended up back where I started: Macy*s — part of the Federated stores.

Buying a mattress is not a difficult task, but apparently selling me one is. Especially if you want one right away.

Yes, I really want it today. I’m driving a truck, and I need the mattress now, so, yes, I want one that’s in stock, and yes, I’ll drive to wherever your warehouse is to get it. I know that’s not what you normally do, but I’m sure it’s a reasonable request.

You’re going to charge me $20 to pick it up?  Please, I understand delivery charges, but I have to pay you to let me drive to the middle of nowhere, deal with your surly warehouse person, and load it into my own truck while he stands and watches? Oh… my… god…

But that’s not really the point. As I went to buy the mattress, I needed to use the restroom, which is conveniently next to the employee break room. I love these places. There is no better place to understand a company’s culture than the break room. Not only do you get to see employees when they are not “on stage”, but you also get to see all the silly things companies post for their employees’ eyes only. Some day I’m going to do a book of photo essays on break rooms…

There is no better place to understand a company’s culture than the break room.

Macy*s break room did not disappoint. Like many big company break rooms there is a bulletin board with all kinds of things posted: the obligatory EEOC and other government notices, tired handwritten signs about not leaving food around, and notices about company meetings that happened two months ago. There were also very high quality signs from HR that advertised 800-numbers to call for issues or questions, and a number of employee signs selling various household items. Nothing special here.

Best of all, however, were two huge (1′ by 3′) signs high on the walls, in bright Macy*s red and black. One said “TEAM WINS”, a sentiment that I found later was plastered all over the warehouse as well. I’m not sure if that means “let’s rack up some wins as a team” or “being a team is a winning strategy”. I’m sure someone knows, but not many care.

The other huge sign said “YOU COUNT”. Beyond the wishful thinking of the HR person who created that sign, I’m not sure at all what this one meant. Yes, I know what it means: you are valuable, you make a difference. But I’m not sure if that means anything to anyone at Macy*s. The employees surely decide whether they count more by the company’s actions than by a big sign in the break room.

The employees surely decide whether they count.

I went back to finalize the purchase, and found two people huddled around a computer terminal, trying in vain to get the system to complete the sale. My zip code was recently changed, and the system kept telling them “cannot deliver to that zip code”. But remember, I was picking it up, no delivery was involved. Doesn’t matter… the system wouldn’t complete the sale with that zip code. And it wouldn’t accept my old zip code, because that didn’t match the city anymore. After 15 minutes, and two more people offering advice, they finally ended up moving me to the address of the warehouse, and were able to complete the sale. Let’s just hope the mattress doesn’t get recalled and they send the notice to their warehouse.

I’m sure the employees struggling with the ancient computer system would much rather have had the company focus on new computers than on signs for the break room. And I know that, as the team of them struggled to conquer the lame system, not one of them felt like they “counted” to Federated. I’m confident they were frustrated and dreaming of greener pastures elsewhere. So much for fancy signs in the break room…