Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


Does your staff love you so much that they'll do anything you ask?

Can you use their love for the company to get them to do things, well, for free? Should you?

These deeper philosophical questions batter my brain on hearing of the commitment--or, some might mutter, fear--of staff who work for Urban Outfitters.

You surely know these stores. It's where very young people go to look slightly older and older people go to look slightly younger.

The management at Urban Outfitters sent out an email to staff that suggested a little "team-building activity."

You must decide how morale-boosting this might have been. For it didn't involve playing competitive games or rock-climbing. There was no paintball or other fine covert colleague-hating ritual. Instead, "volunteers" were invited to pop along to the company's Pennsylvania fulfillment center at the weekend and "help pick, pack and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers."

Gawker got hold of this email. I wonder whether it could have been a disgruntled Outfitter who sent it. I wonder whether this staff member was slightly perturbed at the gall of being told that working for free--on the weekend, no less--was "a great way to experience our fulfillment operations first hand."

Of course, another way would have been to visit during office hours, walk around, and observe.

This call for volunteers was limited to those who are salaried employees. But the only reason that hourly employees weren't, um, encouraged to volunteer too was because it would have been against labor laws.

Still, Urban Outfitters' parent company URBN sees nothing wrong with this attempt to get workers to give the company a weekend for free. It said: "Unsurprisingly, we received a tremendous response, including many of our senior management."

I suppose you're supposed not to be surprised that Urban Outfitters employs such wonderful people. Clearly, they all must have volunteered in order to bond with their fellow Urbanites. If only our nation enjoyed this level of commitment from its citizens, what a wonderful place it would be.

I worry, though, that this sort of call for volunteers is really designed to discover who doesn't volunteer. It's less about discovering who is committed to the cause (out of enthusiasm or fear, naturally) and who will look management squarely in the face and snort.

Some might find a touch of sinister creepiness in the notion that when a company should be hiring extra workers, it tries to get existing workers to work more--and for free.

I do exaggerate, of course. These staff weren't working for free. Lunch was provided.