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Racism In The Workplace
Occasional good perks
Dreadfully boring at senior management levels .
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I fancied covering a slightly more sensitive issue, and I immediately thought of Debenhams. I mean to cause no offence and would suggest that anyone reading this that sees's something offensive should re-read the entire piece before making a decision.
In 2002 I was offered the role of manager of the 2nd floor of Debenhams on Oxford Street, London. The departments were Home wares, Textiles, Cook shop, Soft Furnishings, Electrical, Restaurant and overseeing a variety of concessions. I had a staff level of roughly 240, the store staff level was roughly 1400.
I am a white British man, and on my floor was certainly in the minority. Having had somewhat a sheltered life and spending most of which in the West Country a whole encountering a variety of new cultures was quite a strange situation for me. I got on very well with all my staff, and a variety of staff on the other floors. I became quite popular as people found me a bit unusual. I tend to say exactly what I think, and considering the variety of people in London you would think people would not be too reserved. Boy was I wrong, every single day I would say something only to turn around and see someone's jaw practically on the floor.
This level of popularity took me to a variety of other areas, I was discussing problems that staff members had outside of work and always dragged in to help with recruitment. My off the wall and slightly more reserved at interview level sense of humour really seemed to please both senior management and the interviewees. Other management made me very welcome I was invited out for meals, and to quiz nights with other stores. I even founded a moaners club, in which staff of all levels would meet at the Spread Eagle (a pub) opposite for a drink and a good moan after work. This would take place at least once a week, and to this day the gatherings still take place.
Slowly the different layers of the Debenhams cake were unrolled to me; I was invited into more important circles. Then one day I was bought into the world of internal investigations. In Debenhams if a member of staff was involved in a disciplinary issue it was dealt with in the following ways:- If the member of staff was of sales assistant or supervisor level,
the investigation would be carried out by a manager from another floor. If it was a senior management disciplinary then an outside team would be bought in. My first few disciplinary issues were quite straightforward. Nobody was sacked they were just minor issues i.e. poor accountancy, bad timekeeping etc.
Then it raised its head
RACISM, not in the way you may think either and by far the worst I had ever encountered.
I glanced upon a hand written notice one day in Human Resources about disciplinary procedures. The notice clearly stated that all disciplinary action must be carried out by white members of staff. This immediately struck me as being possibly tilted at a white supremacy situation. And again was I wrong.
I became "privileged" to two investigations on two consecutive days. Case 1 was a white female who had taken home a chipped mug rather than throwing it out and filling in a stock loss report. Case 2 was a Pakistani male who had been stealing money, filling out fraudulent refunds and using other members of staffs operator numbers to cover his tracks, falsely accounting his hours, and extending his breaks as he saw fit. He had been getting away with this for three years. In case 1 the young lady was handed over to the police, but they released her without charge later. In case 2 we spent hours surveying CCTV footage going through audit roles, at one point we had about 9-11 members of management all working on the same issue at the same time. As the case reached its climax the accused member of staff used the expression "Your trouble is, you are all racist". There was an immediate closed door situation between the most senior management in the store, and after ten minutes the man was fired but allowed to leave without charge. Despite more than 40 pieces of evidence to 100% confirm he had committed these acts.
This was the beginning a whole string of similar occurrences which took place over my remaining three months in the business. Every time a similar pattern, on one occasion a racist war of words between a Scottish man and an Iraqi girl ended up with him being dismissed and her being left alone, despite staff present who claimed it was equal racist abuse.
Debenhams apparently had a very high profile court case involving a racist incident that cost the company considerably, and as a result Debenhams have an unwritten policy of avoiding anything that remotely points to racism, certainly in Oxford Street anyway.
I left the company both bored as I had become used almost as a Captain Peacock type character. Who was a figurehead but nothing more, this occurred when I raised an objection over a disciplinary issue. And of course most importantly, totally discontent with the whole situation.
My point for this opinion being is that racism is not always aimed at ethnic minorities, when I mention this to other people in city working environments they nearly all have similar tales.
I am fully for equality but equality needs to be a 50/50 thing not tilted to one angle because of fear of the outcome.
About The Job ------------------------------
With my personal experience out of the way, to keep this on topic I feel it only fair to mention some things about the position, so a potential employee can assess things about the role I undertook.
The position entails running of a specified area of the store as if it were your own. You need to ensure that all Point Of Sale and promotional offers are actioned at the exact time designated.
The Sales Manager is responsible for planning the rotas and dealing with staff attendance issues as well as organising holiday times and appraising staff twice a year. The appraisals affect the way the staff member is paid, and outlines a strategy for improvement over the coming six months.
The role requires that the Sales Manager be prepared for a variety of sales complaint scenarios and be familiar with the full customer satisfaction policy.
Sales Managers must push staff to sell the Debenhams Loyalty card in association with GE Capital Bank, logs are kept of staff performance on this. Members with a poor sales history on specific days of the month are given an area on the floor where they must push the card until an achieved number of sales is reached.
Sales Managers need to have basic understanding of other floors within the store so to fill in at a moments notice. Prior to working at Debenhams I was store manager for C & A in Cheltenham and thus was always thrown into fashion areas when staffing levels were short.
Sales Managers must achieve previous year's sales targets; the only excuse for failing these targets is if the store as a whole has a failing day. Failure to achieve targets several days running can result in an on the spot assessment. Sales Managers can initiate Staff incentives to increase sales, suggested methods include link selling.
Sales Managers must ensure investigations are dealt with fairly!?!?
Staff Incentives ----------------------
At the time I worked at Debenhams the following incentives or perks of the job were available. These are the incentives at the Oxford Street store and applied to all staff, other stores may vary.
Free Travel Card up to Zone 6 in the London Transport Network.
Staff Store Card, this is the GE Capital card but given to all staff regardless of credit status. This card also is required to activate the 20% Staff discount (this may now have been reduced to 15%)
Staff Uniform, each staff member receives two full uniforms.
Share Scheme and Pension Plan, open to all.
50% Discount on food eaten in the staff canteen.
My Thoughts On The Role -----------------------------------
The problem with Debenhams is that you are accepted by all at Senior Management level, unless you speak up against issues you feel are unfair. At such time they close ranks and you are made an outsider.
Another annoying issue is that there is no set wage for Managerial staff one member may have worked for the company for 5 years and earn £20K while another may walk in off the street and earn £28k. It is forbidden to discuss wages amongst senior management, and again should you be found to be discussing wages you are again made an outcast, and eventually removed.
The job itself is nothing too demanding, but incredibly boring. To achieve the maximum amount of rewards within Debenhams you must not have a brain, or any opinions other than those written clearly in the rule book.
In fairness to Debenhams if you are an ordinary sales assistant, or merchandiser you can carry on for a large amount of time without coming to any harm or noticing the internal disputes, as most of the issues outline only occur at "Top Level" as Debenhams like to regard the position.
Great Review, We have a couple of concessions in that store so I know what you're talking about. Vickie
mental_infestation 22.11.2005 17:38
Sounds familiar. Whilest working in Poundstretcher I found out the previous manager had been fired for "racism". The fact of the matter was that the girl who cried racism was the laziest worker on the team. She had bad personal hygiene, admitting to one bath a week, which put both staff and customers off going near her. When the boss finally decided enough was enough and he wanted to fire her for being lazy, she appealed to people higher up that she was being dimissed for being Asian. The next manager was too scared to even try to fire her, and tried to send her to other stores in the area (who all decided that they didn't need extra staff on the days he tried to send her). And I believe 2/3 years on that she's still there. Good review, and nice to see someone else talk of the injustices of political correctness. I believe that it should be 50/50 too and that companies need to stop being afraid and make sure they have good hard evidence against any member of staff they wish to fire.