Are Smiles Compulsory at Trader Joe’s?


Joe Wolf | Flickr

Trader Joe’s, the cut-price gourmet grocer, is known for paying and treating its workers better than a lot of other retailers. We always assumed that explained the good spirits the staff there usually displays. A New York Times story suggests that the smiles and friendly chatter are more of a job requirement — and at least one worker is complaining to the National Labor Relations Board that he was fired for being too negative.

Company enforcement of an upbeat vibe is nothing new, of course. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild long ago dubbed the practice “emotional labor,” and it takes a toll on employees, not only because it’s exhausting but also because it erodes workers’ sense of personal integrity.

It’s hard to tell how widespread the problem is at Trader Joe’s, or whether the issue the Times airs is simply a problem with a single poorly managed outlet. One salient point: Trader Joe’s started in sunny Southern California, but the labor problems it’s beginning to face are emerging in the scrappier Northeast.

The NLRB complaint stems from a worker on New York’s Upper West Side, where crusty outnumbers perky by a wide margin. Maybe the lesson here is for national chains to leave more room for regional difference: In the land of kvetches, no one should be forced to grin.

People Will Pick on Self-Driving Cars

Human beings have an unlimited taste for baiting and gaming software systems. When we encounter an algorithm, we like to poke at its reactions and test its boundaries.

Self-driving cars are, among other things, software systems. So expect both human drivers and pedestrians (also: bicyclists!) to play cat-and-mouse games with them — and even bully them, taking advantage of their programmed caution (Technology Review).

Some good can come of this: “Because autonomous vehicles will be risk-averse … pedestrians will be able to behave with impunity,” giving them a new edge in city life, writes the author of a UC-Santa Cruz study of the issue. But no software stands still; we expect a new technology like this to keep improving.

Will that mean we can’t expect consistent behavior over time — or from one company’s system to another? The hardest problem to solve here might simply be communication: Without a driver to make eye-contact with, pedestrians are going to have trouble simply guessing an autonomous vehicle’s intentions.

Diversity Isn’t Even on the Silicon Valley Radar

For all the headlines and forums on the subject of bringing more diversity to the technology industry and the broader startup world, the issue isn’t even on the radar for most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors, according to a study by LinkedIn (Recode).

Seventy-five percent of VCs, and even more entrepreneurs, told LinkedIn that they “have no idea if their firms have initiatives to increase diversity.” Also, a substantial minority (40 percent of investors, 37 percent of founders) say the press pays too much attention to diversity.

Of course, one reason for this problem’s stubbornness is that the mostly white-male people in charge aren’t the victims of racist or sexist bias so they don’t see what the fuss is all about. The moral argument might simply not work. Instead, we might need to keep reminding businesses that a diverse team is a competitive advantage.

Cities: That’s Where the Voters Are

It’s time for the quadrennial reminder that those big red-and-blue electoral maps plastered all over the political internet present a deeply warped version of reality (The Washington Post). The vast washes of red in the Mountain and Plains states and through much of the old South look impressive. Those places are full of natural wonders and mega-farms, but they’re sparse in what election maps are supposed to be counting — voters (and the electoral votes that represent them).

That’s because 80 percent of Americans live in cities today, and cities are clustered along the coasts, with the nation’s population heavily weighted to the northeast and southwest corners. “This is truly real America right here,” say the folks at Trump rallies in rural counties — but that’s simply wrong, any way you do the numbers.

On Uber, Workers, and Regulation

As courts in the U.K. press Uber to treat its workers more like a traditional employer, we once again hear the familiar complaint that government interference is going to smother a new industry in the cradle. Entrepreneurs often view regulations with horror, but we need to make a more balanced view, writes Azeem Azhar (NewCo Shift). Some regulations stifle markets, but others make our lives safer, give businesses stability, and improve public trust.

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Related Stories:

Self Driving Cars Are Not “Five Years Away.”

Throwing Down the Gauntlet: the Diversity Crisis & the Startup Community

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