The letter I’ll never send to my CEO

Dear D,

You must be very proud of your company. You started it on your own and took it from a garage-sized operation to an award-winning and internationally known brand. Few people in the world ever achieve that much success. Equally impressive is the fact that success doesn’t seem to have gone to your head. The few times anyone has asked me what you’re like I told them you’re a down-to-earth kind of guy, a little shy even. I told them you’re always smiling and friendly and that I can’t even imagine what you’d be like when you’re angry because that would just be so out of character for you. It’s unusual that someone as gentle as you makes it so far in the dog-eat-dog, cut-throat world of business. You should be proud.

I sometimes wonder if you ever imagined your company would grow this large when you first started out. If so, I wonder how you envisioned your company would look. I wonder if you imagined it being a progressive, Utopian(ish) workplace like Google where your employees would almost rather be at work than at home. You certainly seem to be trying to take it in that direction, what with the idealistic company values printed on the giant poster in the front office, the lack of dress code, the free milk and coffee and fruit and the occasional company-sponsored fun-night. Some workers even get a dollar an hour bonus for meeting their “key performance indicators.” I know some of the executives get bonuses for reaching their targets, and their bonuses are so big that nobody ever talks about them. You’ve also set a sales goal, that if we meet, the company will divide up one million dollars between all the employees. We both know you’ve been far more generous with perks than most companies.

I wonder if this is how you envisioned the future of your company when you first started out. I also wonder if sometimes you look down from your corner office and think, “You guys are all suckers. I can’t believe you’re doing this. Thank God I’m not as naive as you.” Let’s be honest for a minute and spell out the math, so to speak. I know this must have crossed your mind before.

You pay your workers as little as possible within the context of the law and supply and demand. Some of us get fifty cents or a dollar fifty over minimum wage, but let’s be honest. If minimum wage were six dollars you’d be bragging about how you pay some of your workers seven dollars an hour. If minimum wage were four dollars you’d be bragging about how you pay some of your workers five dollars.

In addition to paying your workers as little as possible to maximize the profits you get to take home you work us as long as the law will allow. You also exploit the loophole that as long as overtime isn’t mandatory you don’t have to pay over time, and despite the fact that we do intense mental and physical work for you, we’re expected to keep up the highest pace humanly possible the entire time, every day. And you guarantee that we’ll exhaust ourselves to that limit by designing the computers we use to monitor, record and report everything we do. So even if our boss doesn’t see us resting the system will show it. If there’s any doubt that we’re pushing ourselves to the limit (which there’s not) you can always play back the video footage from the dozen cameras that keep a constant watchful eye on us.

Even though nobody counts the way you spend every minute of your day and you can take as long of a lunch break as you want and take time off whenever you want I know you’re a busy man. So I’ll get straight to the point. I wonder how fully conscious you are of the fact that your business model is based on exploiting wage slaves, which is just a fancy way of saying, “slavery.” I wonder how fully conscious you are of the fact that every dollar you put in your pocket was earned by us, and every dollar you spend on luxury is a dollar we can’t spend on necessity. I wonder how fully conscious you are of the fact that every day we come to work we’re fighting against your “key performance indicators” for survival. I wonder how fully conscious you are of the fact that the key performance indicators are based on the best worker working at their best speed and doesn’t take into consideration all the little tasks we have to do every day like tidying up, looking for a pen, changing stations, finding a computer that works, waiting for the constant little lags in the system caused by the tragically designed infrastructure, restocking supplies, tying our shoes, going to the bathroom and so on. So in order to reach the ninety five percent productivity rate that’s expected of us we actually have to work all day at a one hundred to one hundred and ten percent productivity rate.

Granted, all the stress would be worth it to us if we meet that sales target and get that one million dollars…except everyone in the company knows it would take fifty miracles to make that happen. That bar was set low enough to (theoretically) motivate us but high enough that there was never any risk of you having to pay up. So all that “incentive” has accomplished is sending a clear message to everyone who works for you that we’ve made you enough money that you can afford to give away a million dollars but you’re not willing to share that wealth with us. In fact, you’re willing to insult our intelligence and lie to us to try to squeeze as much sweat and irreplaceable time out of our fleeting lives as you can so you can convert it into cash in your pocket to squander on more luxuries for you and your family.

This is why your best workers leave. This is why you have so many immigrants and pot heads working for you, because they’re the only ones desperate enough to endure the working conditions you’ve created.

I often wonder if this is how you imagined you’d build your fortune when you started your company. I wonder if you dreamed of wasting the best years of people’s lives slaving away for you for barely enough money to survive. I wonder if you even realize you’re doing it and if you’ve excused it all away by telling yourself things like, “That’s business.” or “If you don’t like it you can get another job.” or “I have to do this to stay competitive.”

I wonder how much thought you’ve put into the value of human life, and by that I don’t just mean how much one person’s life is worth but how much each minute in a person’s life is worth. Is a minute in one person’s life worth more or less than a minute in another person’s life? If you had to spend five years working in the conditions you’ve created for the pay you allow, would you consider those five years fully lived? If your children had to work in the conditions you’ve created for the pay you allow would you feel like they fully lived their lives? If the answer to either of those questions is “no” then why would you demean and rob other people’s lives that way? Is there really any excuse big enough to justify wasting an equal human being’s potential for money?

Why is it that if you cut a person’s life short it’s called murder but when you cut the best years of their life out in the middle it’s a justified business expense? You might think these questions are over dramatic, but if you play back the video of your workers and you see the dead-eyed, stressed out expressions they wear on their faces all day when your back is turned you’ll realize I’m not exaggerating when I say that the reality is, you’re killing us little by little every day.

I’m positive this isn’t what you envisioned when you started your business, and I’m positive that you’re either completely ignorant of what you’ve become or you’ve made enough short-sighted excuses to justify your actions to yourself, and I’m positive you’ll never realize the true cost your success has come at to the people who run your company. I regret that I’ll never be able to send this letter to you because you’ll fire me, and I need this job because slavery is better than starvation. So I’ll work for you as long as I have to until I’ve saved enough of the crumbs you’ve let fall from your plate and I can start my own business that treats the people I work with as equal human beings fully deserving of equal respect and profits. And I, and everyone who has ever worked for you, will always remember you with sadness and regret.

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Issues in the Workplace

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