The shoe shop, the walkout and the online fallout
Column: there is little to suggest viral revenge leaves lasting marks on target companies
“To try to find out what actually happened I called Journeys’ headquarters where a woman directed me to an online statement that said the company was investigating the matter. Having been thus unhelpful she added: ‘Thank you! Have a great day!’”
Until last month, Niki, Jess and TJ worked at a shoe store in a Rochester, New York shopping mall, where they passed their days inserting children’s sweaty feet into new pairs of trainers. But then, en masse, they resigned. On a giant piece of paper they composed a letter to their boss that began: “Dear Jamie, Since you decided to say ‘cancer is not an excuse’ and swear at your employees like you do ALL the time?.?.?.?WE QUIT.” They pinned the letter to the shop window and walked out.
The story might have ended there, were it not for the internet. Someone took a photo of the shut-up shop – a Journeys outlet – and posted it on Reddit. Thousands of supportive comments poured in and the story went viral. “You abuse your roll [sic]” the letter went on, in a round, childish script. “We Aren’t Allowing it ANYMORE.”
Hooray, I thought. Power to the people! Who needs a trade union when you have the internet? Niki and her colleagues more than compensate for any weakness in spelling by the strength of their courage. The three of them are modern-day martyrs, sacrificing themselves to a good cause. Their letter is a warning to all companies that obnoxious middle managers not only kill morale, they are a danger to their reputation and their brand.
Just as I had worked myself up into a lather of indignation, the story took on a new turn. Jamie and sources close to Jamie surfaced online peddling their own counter-allegations about Niki, Jess and TJ.
What actually happened?
To try to find out what actually happened I called Journeys’ headquarters where a woman directed me to an online statement that said the company was investigating the matter. Having been thus unhelpful she added: “Thank you! Have a great day!”
As I put down the phone I marvelled at my own naivety in having expected anything good to come from this sort of thing. Perhaps it was because I had seen The Sound of Music on stage the night before, and the memory of Captain von Trapp’s transformation from a man who summoned staff with a whistle to a softie singing Edelweiss was too fresh in my mind. When it comes to making people behave better, the internet is much less powerful than a trainee nun with a guitar case. It is far too big and too blunt a tool to improve conditions at work.
An amplified battle on social media is no way to settle a matter that may be quite nuanced. Indeed, there is no sign that viral acts of revenge by departing employees leave any lasting marks on the companies they are aimed at – though they may make the person who carried them out rather less employable than they were before.