At Trader Joe’s, all employees are always smiling — but the reason behind it is quite disturbing.
The grocery store’s workers are encouraged to produce an atmosphere of positivity, are urged to walk customers to any items they have difficulty locating, to accept returns with no question asked and even tear open food packages to let the customer taste the products — all with a smile on their faces.
The company has compensated its happy-go-lucky workers with cash and benefits, but recently, the façade of cheerfulness hides a mounting dissatisfaction in some stores. A growing number of employees complain of harsh treatment, safety lapses and a continuous close monitoring.
Additionally, the workers allege they are pressured to remain upbeat and happy “even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store,” according to The New York Times.
A long time employee of the store in Manhattan, Thomas Nagle, who filed for an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office, said he was constantly reprimanded and then fired because the management did not think his smile and demeanor were sufficiently “genuine.”
After one review, his managers told him he was making “little effort in executing Trader Joe’s processes” and they didn’t “remember the last time I’ve seen you, like, genuinely smile.”
Nagle was later fired for not greeting a manager with sufficient enthusiasm.
“It’s not like, ‘Hey what’s going on,’ it’s like ‘Heh,’” the manager said. “It’s got to be genuine. You have to want to be here.”
Nagle also said supervisors would use the public address system to scold workers not to talk while they were stocking shelves. Sometimes, managers would pester workers just for the fun of it.
Nagle is not alone in his grievances. A female employee said she was chastised for sipping water while working at the checkout because her supervisor said she was taking too long between customers.
The management is reportedly very unconcerned about the employees’ safety and many stores have storerooms piled high with products that sometimes fall on workers. Sometimes, toxic fumes come into the store and make the workers sick, workers allege.
The workplace conditions are at odds with the place that purports to project positivity towards its company’s image
In its defense, Trader Joe’s said in a statement: “We do not fire crew members for trivial reasons. We pride ourselves on operating our business with integrity and adhering to the law at all times.”
“The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly,” said a worker. “I think they want us to be not real people.”