Disney Uses 'Electronic Whip' To Push Employee Performance

Disney World employee standardsIf it's the happiest place on Earth, then our standards may be a wee bit low.

Of course, when Disney refers to itself by its official tagline, it's alluding to the experience of paying customers who pass through the Disneyland and Disneyworld turnstiles en route to the carefree bliss experienced on rides like Space Mountain. And while all employees at Disney are instructed to maintain an outwardly sunny disposition, ear-to-ear smile and all, their true experience may be less than the grin implies, according to a new investigation from the Los Angeles Times.

"In the basements of the Disneyland and Paradise Pier hotels in Anaheim, big flat-screen monitors hang from the walls in rooms where uniformed crews do laundry. The monitors are like scoreboards, with employees' work speeds compared to one another. Workers are listed by name, so their colleagues can see who is quickest at loading pillow cases, sheets and other items into a laundry machine," writes L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez. The workers refer to the monitors as the "electronic whip."

"I was nervous," Isabel Barrera, a Disneyland Hotel laundry worker who earns $11.94 tells the Times, "and felt that I was being controlled." Disney, for its part, says the practice is not uncommon at hotels.

Many media organizations, as well as trading firms, make use of such scoreboards. The treatment of pillow cases as stock quotes at Disney was uncovered by Lopez as he sought to report on the plight of a Disney staff working without a contract since 2008. After the last contract expired three years ago for the 2,100 workers in the greater Anaheim, Calif., area, the Unite Here Local 11 union rejected Disney's offer for a new agreement. With the company's health care trust fund shrinking, Disney called on employees to devote a larger share of salaries to provide adequate funds. Disney and the union have continued to tussle, with the workers being unmoved by various offers from the company to meet the workers halfway, such as a plan to give $5,000 over two years to employees who switch to the Disney plan. The workers maintain that they shouldn't have to make any new sacrifices, given Disney's profits last year of roughly $4 billion.

Regardless, Disney has a long history of being looked at as a model for maintaining a satisfied and successful workforce. As Kaiser Health News reported in July, the Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., brought in consultants from Disney to instruct their 900 employees on how to "improve their attitudes towards their jobs," according to Phil Galewitz's reporting. And the Disney consultants are said to emphasize the importance of providing personal attention to all customers, above and beyond any service needs.

"Disney taught us that service is a culture and a way of life and not some fad of the month," Gordon Williams, Iowa's chief of operations told Kaiser. The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is another of the at least 25 hospital groups who have tapped Disney for its service consulting duties.

Such a new business endeavor and industry respect would surely thrill the late Walt Disney, who penned a handbook for employees in 1943 entitled, "The Ropes at Disney." The goal, he said, is to "maintain a friendly relationship between Company and employee."

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