On Calling Your Employees “Partners”

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Not to keep harping on the Starbucks #RaceTogether thing, but I hope you take some time today to read Starbucks SVP of Global Communications Corey DuBrowa’s Medium essay on why he deleted his Twitter account and why he decided to reinstate it. (Medium: the home of Thought Leadership.)

There was one sentence—a parenthetical aside, in fact—that made me laugh out loud:

To be clear, Race Together isn’t about me, it’s about we: and having heard first-hand the number of stories our partners (at Starbucks we call our employees “partners”) shared with us in the open forums of the past few months, I have thought long and hard about the passion, concerns and painful experiences our people across the country have endured, and wanting to make sure they felt supported by their company.

“At Starbucks, we call our employees “partners.””

I mean, of course you do, we are all “partners” or “cast members” or “team members” now, but the honesty of this parenthetical aside is so refreshing. It’s the equivalent of saying “I was listening to the large number of partners we have here at Starbucks—I mean, they’re employees, of course, at Starbucks we call our employees “partners,” but that’s because we feel weird about calling them “employees,” it doesn’t mean they’re actual partners.”

Because if they were true partners, DuBrowa wouldn’t need to clarify it. He’d just say “Our partners” and we’d understand that to mean “partners” in the traditional sense of the word. The fact that he had to follow it with “just to be clear, I don’t actually mean partners here” reiterates how little partnership today’s employees have.

With that in mind, here’s two questions for all of us today:

1. What is the most hilarious “employee euphemism” job title you’ve ever had? I never got to be anything like a Cast Member, but I was once a Finance Assistant who did very little financial assisting but a lot of making sure that various documents were filed in alphabetical order.

2. What was your job title when you first started feeling like a valued partner or team member? (I’m guessing it wasn’t “Team Member.”) I always felt valued as an Executive Assistant, because the work I did was very important to keeping the office running smoothly. The Finance Assistant job, on the other hand—I mean, I liked the office and I liked my boss and it was a great starter job, but I knew that I had very little to contribute besides my ability to sort documents.

What about you?

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