Weekly Wrap: At Facebook, Job Board Is In, Tough Yoga Instructor Is Out

It’s been quite the week for Facebook.

First, the word came out that they were jumping into the job board business — a prospect a lot of people are questioning and seem to be willing to do without.

Then, the story broke that Facebook management fired a contract yoga instructor for simply flashing a dirty look (or some kind of look) at a Facebook employee who whipped out her cell phone during the middle of a stretching exercise during a recent class at the Facebook gym.

If bad media events, like dying celebrities, come in threes, the wrongly-fired yoga instructor simply rounds out the trifecta that started with Facebook’s botched IPO followed by the less-than-well-received job board announcement.

“An hour isn’t too much to ask”

The incident with the yoga instructor is worth examining because it gives both a peek into the workplace culture at Facebook, and, makes a statement about the nuttiness of our 24/7/365, always-wired, always-connected 21st century culture.

First reported by the San Jose Mercury-News, Alice Van Ness had “started teaching yoga to Facebook employees at the company’s Menlo Park campus a few months ago,” the newspaper said. She told the Mercury-News:

I understand it’s a busy world we live in and you’ve got to pack it in, but it’s beneficial to your whole system to let it go for an hour,” said Van Ness, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for six years. “An hour isn’t too much to ask.”

Although she tells her students before every class to turn off their cell phones, Van Ness said that in the middle of a Monday noontime class at Facebook, a female employee pulled out her phone and began typing during a half-moon pose. Though Van Ness didn’t say anything, she gave the student a “look of disapproval,” which the student later complained about to others.

“It’s not appropriate,” Van Ness said in explaining why she shot the student a stern glance. “It’s time to pay attention. I’ve even hurt myself in that pose. … I don’t believe there’s anything that could be going on at Facebook that couldn’t wait a half an hour.”

Two weeks later, Van Ness said she was called into a meeting with her supervisor at Plus One Health Management, with which Facebook contracts to oversee its onsite gym and fitness programs.

“They sent me packing, they didn’t even want to hear my side of the story,” VanNess said. “They already had my paycheck ready.”

According to the termination letter, the employee said Van Ness had “made a spectacle of her” during the class by stopping instruction and glaring at her when she pulled out her phone.

Van Ness said she didn’t know the employee’s name or whether she is a high-level executive at Facebook.”

What does this say about Facebook’s culture?

Contract workers, like Facebook yoga instructor Van Ness, serve at the pleasure of the company and can be cut loose any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. That’s not the point. The point is that Facebook would decide to toss someone — anyone — based on one person’s complaint, without even asking to hear about the other side of the incident.

That’s not a ringing endorsement of Facebook’s company culture and people practices.

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Mercury-News columnist Mike Cassidy made a good point about this incident when he wrote:

Is it too much to ask … for Facebook employees to put away their smartphones for an hour, so they can breathe deeply and become one with themselves? “I don’t believe there is anything going on at Facebook,” says Van Ness, 35, “that couldn’t wait a half an hour.”

An understandable argument, but this is Facebook. This is a company that grew from nothing to the biggest thing going in about 15 minutes. This is a company that changes its privacy policy every half-hour. This is a place that is all about the social network, which by the way, has nothing to do with making eye contact with your yoga instructor and everything to do with constant access to a keyboard and screen.

And the sad truth is that when you work at the biggest thing going, you sometimes forget that other people are important, too.

OK, maybe there are things that can’t wait: A demanding boss, slightly less demanding kids, a family emergency, a chance to buy Facebook stock at its daily low. Would it kill somebody to get up and leave the room to conduct a conversation?

The truth is that smartphones, which once held the promise of making the world a wonderful place, are basically ruining civilization as we know it. Smartphones are one more tool for rude people to demonstrate how rude they can be.”

Cassidy is right, but there’s one more point that keeps nagging at me: what does it say about a company that they don’t seem to care about even hearing the other side of the argument before deciding to cut someone loose? Is it too much of a stretch to wonder that if Facebook does this to contractors, would they do it to their employees, too?

Shrinking pay raises

It’s been a rough couple of months for Facebook, starting with the debacle that was their IPO. Summarily canning a contract yoga instructor is a minor incident in the grand scheme of things, but maybe this is just one small look into the culture of the company — and, one small insight into why the company  seems to be struggling to make investors feel it’s truly worthy of it’s formerly high-flying reputation.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on this week than Facebook’s cavalier firing of a contract yoga instructor.  Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • The incredible shrinking pay raise. We reported this week how meager (again) next year’s wage increase is expected to be, and now The Christian Science Monitor has weighed in on how bad that is — and how such raises aren’t even keeping up with inflation.”The annual pay raise – something workers could once rely on – has become a lot more iffy in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Despite rising corporate profits, average wage hikes aren’t keeping pace with inflation. Some new workers are being paid less than they would have been five years ago, by some estimates. Hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers rose so little in the fiscal year ending in May that their growth rate tied a 47-year record low, government data show. Given the tight labor market, even those who have kept their jobs have had limited bargaining power on wages and benefit.”
  • $90 million for missed rest breaks. Missed rest breaks can be costly. According to the Los Angeles Times, “A Los Angeles judge has awarded a $90-million judgment in an employment lawsuit brought by 15,000 former and present guards against a private security company … Superior Court Judge John S. Wiley ordered ABM Security Services of New York to pay back wages, interest and penalties to clients represented by the firm Roxborough, Pomerance, Nye & Adreani. The lawsuit alleged that ABM violated the law by refusing to give off-duty rest breaks to security personnel at commercial buildings. The company argued that it required all of its employees remain on call, even when they were on legally required rest breaks.”
  • Worried about taking vacations. Miami Herald workplace blogger/columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman points out that workers are still worried about taking vacations. “Americans still are leaving millions of vacations days unused,” she writes. “I thought this was a trend that was changing. I thought that workers were so burned out that they were FINALLY going to take some time off this summer. But I underestimated how broke and afraid Americans are with the economy still sputtering.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.