Sainsbury’s head office is dealing with fallout this week after their Camden branch placed an advert in the Camden New Journal on 12 May (page 14), advertising for an artist to “voluntarily refurbish” their staff canteen. The creative community has stirred up a twitter storm, with reports cropping up in most major media outlets in the UK. Head office referred to the advert as an “error in judgement”.
According to a recent poll, Sainsbury’s makes an effort to be a good employer, which is great. We all make mistakes, and if we have every error-maker hung, drawn and quartered on social media, then we discourage growth. It is more constructive to look at some of the implications of this incident and what can be done in the future.
Volunteering vs Community Engagement
A lot of companies include volunteering for charity as part of their corporate responsibility programmes. Sainsbury’s in particular, is a patron of the arts, which is ironic in this context, and also run their local charities programme. Getting this idea turned on its head and expecting an artist to volunteer their time and talent for free for a company that can afford to pay them, is not great for the brand. The issue is also, that the local community members who shop at Sainsbury’s could view this as a breach of trust. They spend money at the store, so surely, if the store is serious about community engagement and keeping this local, they would be prepared to pay a local artist to do it?
Internal vs External communication
Some things need to be kept in house, and one of them is how you think your staff feel about working for you. Using words like “escape to” is fine if you are talking about a safe haven for at-risk children or a luxury spa, but not your staff members. Who are they escaping from? Management or customers? If it is customers, then why should they help the company that publicly implies they are difficult and demanding? The idea, language and layout of the advert should have been run past marketing. Grammatical errors, using an old logo, and enraging the community are not great ways to improve the company reputation.
The store gets a thumbs up for realizing that productivity and staff engagement are key to business success, but a thumbs down for not know how their staff are feeling. “Escape to”, “Salvage the energy of our staff members”, “emphasize on (sic) the relaxation” all suggest some confusion in what the staff need. Here are the options: a) the staff hate their work and need to escape, b) have jobs that sap all the energy out of them and are desperately in need of a salvage operation c) need a space that encourages relaxation? Perhaps figuring out where to focus efforts to boost morale would be a good first step.
Think of the underlying message in the advert: “we care about our employee engagement, but we are not prepared to pay to improve it.” If a refurbished canteen is going to make a huge difference in the lives of the staff, then putting real thought, effort and resources into it is essential.
You get what you pay for
The only time a volunteer puts their best effort into a project, is if they are passionate about a cause. Giving freely of your time and talent to charity is one thing, but giving 100% to a company that makes a healthy profit? That’s a tough one. Quality comes at a cost. This is surely something Sainsbury’s staff from the bottom to the top should know? It is much better to interview local artists and enter into a paid agreement with the one of them than give yourself into the hands of an amateur who is only looking for exposure.
Nurture Creativity, don’t kill it
Clearly the person who came up with this idea had a burst of creativity. It is not a bad idea to make the staff canteen a welcoming place – where it fell down was in the execution. The problem with creative inspiration is that when it hits we get all excited, and in our excitement forget that even the most brilliant ideas need space for planning. Any artist could tell you this.
Not every creative idea works, and in this case, somewhat ironically, it is a creative idea that seeks to undervalue the creative ideas of others. Hopefully, Sainsbury’s takes advantage of this opportunity to make everyone in the business aware that taking initiative is a positive move, but the implementation needs a lot more careful thought. And here’s hoping they continue with the project, and pay for it, as a patron of the arts.
Here’s to everyone getting the message
If you pay creative thinkers who are employees, then paying creatives who are suppliers is the only way to go.