Workplace: When the boss tells you what to eat
“WeWork is no longer a safe space for carnivores,” said David Gelles in The New York Times. Last month the high-flying workspace rental company announced it would cut red meat, pork, and poultry from company functions, and would even stop reimbursing employees for meat-based business meals. The edict stems from “concerns for the environment, and, to a lesser extent, animal welfare,” according to co-founder Miguel McKelvey. WeWork’s “enforced vegetarianism” is already being dismissed as “another whimsical human resources directive from a high-flying technology startup with an inflated sense of self-importance.” But something more is in play. American workplaces are increasingly comfortable imposing “corporate values on the personal lives of their employees.” While other companies have invoked religion to limit their employee’s health-care options, paid employees to quit smoking, and even advised them how to vote, WeWork is likely “the first big company to tell its employees what they can and can’t eat.”
This could be a sign of things to come, said Jena McGregor in The Washington Post. Ascendant firms like WeWork increasingly look to “prove their environmental mettle” to younger workers. Most, though, content themselves with more safely conventional policies such as subsidizing public transit use and discouraging waste. WeWork’s draconian policy is actually a “perfect case study in virtue signaling,” said Felix Salmon in Slate.com. It’s not really about environmental impact, but about showing off the WeWork founders’ social conscience. “There would be much easier and much more effective ways of reducing the company’s carbon footprint.” McKelvey’s brand of “performative vegetarianism” will win “plaudits and social status among the woke billionaires.” It will also cause “massive HR headaches and generalized employee resentment,” but McKelvey doesn’t seem to care.
Sure, it’s a “branding exercise wrapped in environmental responsibility,” said Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg.com, but WeWork needs branding. It’s essentially “a real estate business trying to look like a tech startup,” and it “needs a mystique.” WeWork is sending a signal that it is special and its 6,000 employees in 76 cities worldwide are part of an elite tribe. “Nothing says ‘We’re a tribe’ like food taboos.” Still, forcing employees to comply with its executives’ values strikes a “note of paternalism,” said Maya Kosoff in VanityFair.com. Silicon Valley companies have outfitted their offices with everything from kitchens to massage therapists to foosball tables to “blur the lines between work life and home life.” WeWork followed that lead, providing trendy perks such as arcade games and craft beer that made work feel like home. Now they’ve reached the logical end point by adding a boss who “acts like a parent—or worse, an unwanted life coach.” ■