In December of 2018, Jackson Racicot decided to quit his job at Walmart and make his dissatisfaction known. Most of the coverage of the 17 year-old’s exit was positive. Other coverage labelled Racicot as immature and an example of how not to quit a job. Racicot’s intercom rant was featured in media around the world and it should be a wake-up call for all bad employers.
Here’s Racicot’s viral video:
But regardless of which opinion of his behavior you are drawn to, two important threads run through all commentary. Those threads are our discomfort with the control employers have in our lives, and the power a single person has over an employer. This power and bad employers don’t mix well.
Bad employers depend on ideological discipline
Both good and bad employers need to trust their employees to behave in a way that is advantageous to the employer. To do this, they often try to control what employees do and say both on and off the job. Jeffery Schmidt, in his book Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives, called this the requirement to maintain ideological discipline.
In Disciplined Minds, Schmidt said that employees who maintain ideological discipline work as if their employers’ priorities are their own. But Schmidt also noted that
“they work uncritically toward their assigned goals.”
Jackson Racicot was definitely not working uncritically toward his assigned goals. Critical thinkers see power imbalances and injustice. But what can happen when critical thinkers see power imbalances and injustice?
Anyone who can’t or won’t maintain ideological discipline is a threat to their employer. Why? Because employees who break ideological discipline often engage in organizational dissent. That’s what Jackson Racicot did right before he walked out of Walmart.
Organizational dissent is a broad and well-researched topic. One way of understanding dissent is as resistance. It can also appear as revenge or retaliation. And, it’s often carried out when people believe their employer has unfairly treated them or others. For many, it’s all about settling a score.
Employers often care more about the damage caused by organizational dissent than the combined costs of systemic poor performance and employee turnover.
Feeling lied to
Most employees will not dissent as long as they believe their employers are following through on the employee’s expectations. Those expectations are set in three employment contracts.
Firstly, the explicit employment contract specifies working hours, compensation, and job tasks. Secondly, the implicit contract involves our expectations about the extent to which the employment relationship is likely to continue over time. And thirdly, the psychological employment contract involves the beliefs each person (employer and employee) has about reciprocity.
It is violations of the psychological employment contract that cause people to feel most unfairly treated. When violations happen they feel they have been lied to.
In his video, Racicot called-out Walmart’s lies and hypocrisy. He said how his Walmart managers would, “make promises and never keep them” and how they would preach “about how they care about their employees,” then call him a “waste of time.” Then, he called-out the faceless oppression of Walmart when he described changes to his coworkers’ employment status so Walmart could avoid giving them employee benefits.
Although Racicot’s experience may not be representative of how most of Walmart’s 2.3 million employees experience their jobs, somebody obviously let Racicot down.
Good employers have nothing to fear
What differentiates bad employers from good ones? Well, one thing good employers don’t have to worry about is employees breaking ideological discipline and engaging in organizational dissent by going rogue on the intercom. Why?
Firstly, good employers know that trusting relationships are built on reciprocity and transparency.
Secondly, good employers know that trusting relationships can only be established between one person and another person, not between one person and nebulous social constructs like organizational culture and organizational values and beliefs.
Good employers know that trusting relationships between all individuals in the workplace serve as a buffer against the pressures of organizational dysfunction and market constraints.
Jackson Racicot for Employee of the Month?
In a video that followed his exit from Walmart, Racicot is unrepentant:
Whether any of Walmart’s bad behavior, as described by Racicot, actually happened is irrelevant. Racicot’s behavior was caused by one thing: broken workplace relationships.
What do you think of Racicot’s intercom exit? Let me know. Please leave a comment below or message me on social media. You can connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Also, please share this article and subscribe to the Work Feels Good blog to read more.