If you haven’t seen it yet, this thread over on Reddit has been getting a lot of internet attention over the last couple of days. In a nutshell, people have been posting secrets that their employers try to keep hidden. They range from the expected and mundane (restaurants dropping food and serving it, IT reps who don’t really know what they’re doing) to more shocking (the long rant about the funeral industry comes to mind). It’s worth reading if you want your faith in society shaken, though of course I think it’s also a good idea to take a lot of it with a grain of salt, given that these are all anonymous internet complainers.
Anyway, reading these stories prompted a thought of my own, and since (a) I’m not a Redditor, and (b) at this point, anything I posted there would be read by absolutely no one, I thought I’d mention it here. I don’t really have any earth-shattering secrets from former jobs, but the closest thing I have to one illustrates a point.
I used to work for a large manufacturer of nutritional supplements - herbs, teas, that sort of thing. If you’ve ever purchase a bottle of echinacea capsules or, I don’t know, St. John’s Wort, or that sort of thing, there’s a pretty good chance we made it. Or, really, packaged it. We purchased these powders in bulk, loaded them into capsules, and sold them on. We also made the store brand versions of the exact same products for several of the country’s largest retailers. So far, so boring. I worked as a microbiologist in the lab, testing each batch of product for bacterial contamination before shipping it out.
Now, because of the lack of regulation of this industry, we were exempt from a lot of the requirements that pharmaceuticals or even regular food products were required to follow. As it happens, just before I started there, the company hired a new lab manager who genuinely cared about doing things right. He made sure that real, informative lab tests were done on everything we shipped. He even instituted actual studies to establish real expiration dates - basically, you age the product and test for levels of whatever active ingredient you decide is important. The expiration date should be how long it takes for that ingredient to degrade to a certain point. Under the previous lab manager, they set the expiration dates by literally walking across the street to Wal-Mart and looking to see what expiration dates the competitors were putting on their products. Totally legal, but very shady.
So, yay! We’re trying to do things right. Except that within a year after instituting all these good quality initiatives, the company declared bankruptcy. I’m not saying that the new lab expenses were responsible for this, but guess which department was severely reduced?
As I read all these stories of greedy companies cutting corners and cheating wherever they can, it’s easy to chalk it all up to greed and evil, and perhaps that is involved in some instances. But it’s also true that quality and doing things right costs time and money, and if my company spends the money to do things correctly, it’s only a matter of time before some shadier company, willing to do whatever it takes, shows up and outcompetes me. My only options then are to go out of business or sink to their level. This isn’t a huge revelation, I’m sure, but it’s depressing.