Thursday, January 08, 2015

Wet Seal employees left high and dry

Nearly a decade ago, I remember being shocked by Radio Shack’s decision to use e-mail to let a bunch or workers know that they were being let go.  (And what if it went into your spam folder?)

These days, with the full frontal embrace of impersonal, at a distance, modes of communication, this wouldn’t seem so shocking, and it’s pretty easy to imagine folks getting laid off via IM or even tweet. (#pinkslipped)

It was so much more personal in the old days, when you were told face to face or via phone.

Not that lay offs always happened smoothly and professionally. I’ve seen some real horror shows, and heard about plenty of others second hand.

Still, it is always somewhat surprising that with all the experience that’s out there – dumpers and dumpees – that a handful of methods haven’t emerged that can be declared best practice, and that minimize the pain factor for those losing their jobs. (Nice if it could minimize the pain factor for those doing the lay offs, too. Figuring out who you’re going to lay off, and then telling them, has to be one of the most difficult things I ever had to do as a manager. Some people claim not to be bothered by this. I even worked with one a-hole who bragged about loving it. His favorite lay off was the one where he decided to let a fellow go while that fellow was sitting in the NICU with his wife waiting to learn whether their newborn was going to live. When D got off the phone, he remarked to a colleague, “I really enjoyed that.” D aside, it would be a good thing to extend some pain reduction to the managers who had to do the deed. But most of my sympathy is reserved for those being let go. Sometimes it really is more blessed to give than to receive.)

Anyway, teen-girl outfitter Wet Seal has not gotten the word on how best to let folks know that their jobs are doing a disappearing act. At least not as evidenced by their current lay-offs.

On Jan. 2, employees at the Wet Seal store in Gulfport, Miss., received a large package in the mail. “It was wrapped in green bubble wrap, and it said ‘Store Project’ on it,” says Sonya, 38, the store’s assistant manager, who’s been with the company for a year and a half. When employees opened the package, they found instructions to pack their iPods, registers, music player, and credit card scanners into the box by the following Wednesday, Jan. 7. (Source Business Week)

Sonya wanted to know how the store was going to operate without those credit card scanners, so she called her boss, and also sent an e-mail to corporate HQ to see if she could find out what was up.

Finally she got a call from a store in nearby Hattiesburg. “That’s when we were told we’re closing down.”

The plans have been afoot for a while, and investors were informed in December that approximately 60 stores (a bit more than 10% of Wet Seal’s outlets) were going to be shuttered by the end of January. But they never told employees, most of who probably don’t read the Wall Street Journal or subscribe to Bloomberg.

Rather than telling store managers and clerks that they were being closed, Wet Seal blew smoke up the employee mini-skirt, informing them that their stores were going to be renovated.

Employees claimed they were assured that they shouldn’t be looking for new jobs, only to find themselves laid  off with no notice – and no payout of accrued sick and vacation time.

“It’s one thing to not tell us something, but they told us specifically not to look for jobs, that everything was fine, and that we had low inventory because they were just going to remodel the store,” says Victoria, 20, who until this week was an assistant manager at a Wet Seal in Dayton… “Oh, and they haven’t answered our e-mails in two weeks.”

This is, of course, pure chicken-shittedness on the part of management.

Oh, I’m sure that they were afraid that their “associates” would create their own severance packages by making off with shopping bags full of shirts and leggings. Or that they would destroy those credit card swipers. But I think it’s pretty hideous to let people know that they’re losing their jobs in such a non-professional way, even if half of those losing their jobs are probably high school kids working at Wet Seal for the clothing discount. Which, of course, means the other half were people actually trying to make a living working retail. Lordy, lordy.

It may, of course, be that Wet Seal is just in such drain-circling disarray that they can’t think straight. As it happens, it isn’t 50 stores that just closed, but more than 300. So maybe it’s more a case of chickens running around with their heads cut off than it is of chicken-shittedness.

Whatever the case, there are now nearly 4,000 out of work who, as of last week, thought they had a job.

I passed the local Wet Seal just yesterday on my way home from the gym.

It didn’t look like it was going out of business but, then again, I wasn’t really looking in their window. It’s not a me store to begin with, plus, with a wind-chill factor below zero, I just wanted to get into CVS and buy a supply of Kleenex.

But I will have to notice tomorrow, when I walk by again, whether “our” Wet Seal was one of the dust-biters.

I do have a small vested interest.

I support a charity that provides Christmas gifts to homeless and poor kids, and I always take a few names. Generally, I’ll ask for teenagers, as their names are less in demand. Three of the teenage girls I got this year asked for nail decorating kits.

Well, nail decorating kits were apparently the Tickle Me Elmo of 2014.

The only ones I could find were Disney themed, which was way too young for teenagers.

After not finding any kits, I figured that I could make my own kits up. Alas, I discovered that half the components I wanted were back-ordered until mid-January.

So it was on to the second choice gift, which was a gift card.

Someone suggested that Wet Seal was the place.

Anyway, I hope the kids went shopping the day after Christmas.

Bad enough that Wet Seal bagged all these stores and employees so coldly. I’d be really ticked if the gift cards I got turned out to be worthless.

Next year I’ll check the financial pages before I buy any gift cards for a teen clothing store. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and be able to get some nail decorating kits. Of maybe I’ll take teenage boys, instead. They’re easy enough: MP3 players or something sporty.

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