L'Oreal's US CEO says beauty is not virtual in a leaked memo revealing why the company is forcing workers to return to the office

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  • L’Oréal USA, which employs nearly 11,000 people, is calling its employees back to work.
  • The decision stems from a company philosophy that values in-person collaboration and on-site face-time, a leaked memo reveals.
  • “The world of beauty is not a remote or virtual one,” said president and CEO of L’Oreal USA Stephane Rinderknech in an internal memo to employees regarding the reopening of the offices, which was viewed by Business Insider.
  • Meanwhile, internal communications and interviews with employees reveal a sense of fear and frustration regarding the mandate to return to the offices.
  • “Being together is a key ingredient to our culture and essential to the success of our business in a creative industry,” L’Oréal previously told Business Insider in a statement. “As such, we have gradually returned employees to offices in locations around the world under a comprehensive safety plan only when permitted by local governments.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As some L’Oréal USA employees express resentment at being made to return to the offices amid a pandemic, internal company messaging reveals the philosophy behind the make-up giant’s controversial decision.

L’Oréal USA, which employs nearly 11,000 people and whose brands include Garnier, Lancôme, and Urban Decay, began requiring employees to come back to the office in a staggered process with reduced capacity in early July, with some workers coming back as early as June. Meanwhile, internal communications and interviews with employees reveal a sense of fear and frustration regarding the mandate to return.

According to internal documents, L’Oreal’s decision to bring its employees back stems from a company philosophy in that values in-person collaboration and on-site face time. 

In a May 28 memo to employees entitled “Safe Together: Why Being Onsite Matters,” president and CEO of L’Oreal USA Stephane Rinderknech explained why the company made the move to bring its employees back before many other similar companies. Estée Lauder Companies, which owns the Clinique and Bobbi Brown brands, is not planning a tentative reopening until October, which is still subject to change. 

‘The world of beauty is not a remote or virtual one’

“Our worksites are a home away from home — the places where we gather, meet, connect, exchange, think, check in and challenge each other,” Rinderknech said in the memo, which was viewed by Business Insider. “It is the unplanned interactions between us, even if they are small gestures like a hello, a nod, a wave, that are very important for building bonds.”

Rinderknech added that he believes “there is no perfect timing for returning to worksites,” and that the company should begin taking steps to adapt to a “new normal” in the office. He also stressed the importance of social interactions for “professional development and growth “as well as for the “mental health and emotional wellbeing” of employees. 

With offices across 13 states, L’Oreal has adjusted its plans for returning to the office according to local guidance. The company confirmed that capacity in the offices will not exceed more than 50% and that returning employees will be admitted to offices on rotating schedules that alternate with working from home time. 

“The life of this company is based on the sensorial enrichment of experiencing beauty in person,” Rinderknech wrote in the memo, later adding, “The world of beauty is not a remote or virtual one.”

loreal safe



An anonymous current L’Oreal employee


Despite positive messaging from the company regarding the return to work, employee interviews and internal communications viewed by Business Insider suggest a general sense of fear and frustration at the mandate to return. 

“They keep repeating how positive people are reacting and it’s bull***t because no one wants to go back,” a current L’Oréal employee who works in California previously told Business Insider. “It’s pure gaslighting.”

Another West Coast L’Oreal employee said that even before the pandemic, she felt that the company did not tolerate remote work in most instances.

These employees, both of whom were granted anonymity in order to speak frankly about their experiences, are just two of many L’Oreal employees who have expressed frustration with the companies decision to bring back its workers into the office.

“Being together is a key ingredient to our culture and essential to the success of our business in a creative industry,” L’Oréal previously told Business Insider in a statement. “As such, we have gradually returned employees to offices in locations around the world under a comprehensive safety plan only when permitted by local governments.”

Employees who want to remain working from home are being required to sign a form that releases their medical information to the company in order for it to determine if they are eligible for accommodations.

A representative from L’Oreal noted that the company “does not ask for any employee’s actual medical records or details of a medical diagnosis. Any employee seeking a medical exemption from returning to in-office work is required to provide verification from their physician. In most instances, a doctor’s note is a sufficient verification.”

 

Read Rinderknech’s full memo to L’Oreal employees below:

May 28, 2020

Dear L’Oreal USA Community,

Starting next week, we will be welcoming the first group of admin employees back to our worksites in Florida and some of our field-based sales offices in other parts of the country. Over the next several weeks, we anticipate that more local governments will lift stay-at-home restrictions and begin to permit onsite business activity in office buildings.

With our Safe Together plan, we are prepared for your return. As we announced before, our approach will be prudent and progressive, beginning with no more than 25% of employees onsite at a given time and gradually increasing over time. The measures we are implementing to protect your safety exceed many of the guidelines set by government authorities and public health experts.

I know many of you are now confident in our approach to safety and you appreciate the many precautions we are taking. I trust that all of you are willing to learn and follow the new hygiene practices, barrier gestures, and social distancing behaviors to keep yourselves and others safe onsite. The one question that remains is this: If we can work effectively from home, why should we return onsite?

I want to spend a few moments here answering this very legitimate and important question. I believe it strikes at the heart of who we are as an organization and what our culture is and will always be. Even during times of crisis, we must act according to our cultural values, which means we live out the following qualities and characteristics that make working at L’Oreal so special.

We always adapt well to any situation

There is no perfect timing for returning to worksites. The fact is that we will be living with this virus for the foreseeable future. This is our new normal, at home, in the office, and everywhere in between, and all we can do is gradually get used to it as our new way of life. We have all adapted our ways of working remarkably well over the past few months and we are now entering the next phase of this situation. We should expect there to be many more phases to which we must react and adjust ourselves. L’Oreal will evolve step by step because we are a flexible and agile organization.

We always prioritize health and safety

As many of you know throughout this pandemic, we have had employees onsite in our factories, distribution centers and research labs. The extra safety precautions we have taken to secure these facilities have been effective. The learnings we will apply from other markets that have begun to return to admin offices will make our return to worksites even smoother. We have demonstrated during this pandemic that we can maintain a safe onsite work environment and we will continue to prioritize your health and safety above all else, as we always have.

We always act in solidarity with others

The teams in Operations and R&I who have been working onsite during this pandemic have, quite literally, kept us in business. They have enabled us to continue to serve our customers and consumers who depend on us. As authorities have been lifting the local stay-at-home orders across the country, our field sales, retail store and beauty advisor teams have been returning to their worksites. Our collective return to all worksites, which is occurring in L’Oreal subsidiaries around the world, is a matter of fundamental fairness and solidarity with our colleagues. We are strongest when we are united in purpose and in practice as One L’Oreal.

We always thrive on togetherness

The strength of L’Oreal’s culture comes from the tight relationships that we form with each other across our organization. Our worksites are a home away from home — the places where we gather, meet, connect, exchange, think, check in and challenge each other. It is the unplanned interactions between us, even if they are small gestures like a hello, a nod, a wave, that are very important for building bonds.

Many of us have managed to stay very close to our immediate teams while working remotely, but some of you have mentioned that you feel that we have lost some of the cross-team, cross-function, cross-division connectedness, collaboration and spirit of community that is such a hallmark of working at L’Oreal. We have been able to function well remotely because of the strong in-person relationships we built before this crisis, but after a while, disconnection in unavoidable. Phasing back into all worksites allows us to reunite with our colleagues and affords us the opportunity to deepen relationships, strengthen our team spirit and drive our business forward.

There are many of us who thrive on in-person interactions and are struggling with the isolation of working remotely. Social interaction and interpersonal relationship are vitally important and not only to professional development and growth. Research shows us that it is also critical to the mental health and emotional wellbeing of our people, which is ultimately the collective health of our workplace.

We always bring our creative best to beauty

Beauty is such a deeply personal and intimate business. The life of this company is based on the sensorial enrichment of experiencing beauty in person. Beauty products are made to be worn, felt, experienced. They are a visual and tactile expression of identity, connection and emotion. As the leading beauty makers and shakers of this world, we too must be strongly connected to this experience in our daily lives. The world of beauty is not a remote or virtual one.

While we might have gained in productivity with teleworking, I fear we might have lost some of the creative exploration that is inherent in our business. We are living on what we have already learned, but are we really working with the mindset of exploration right now? Creative exploration is not formal, organized, planned, transactional. It requires the informal, the unexpected, and the collective — and it leads to innovation.

It also takes a lot of personal energy to bring our best, most creative selves to our work of making and marketing beauty products. This pandemic has seriously challenged the way our people reset, recharge, and restore the balance of their own personal energy. To successfully balance work and life, it is imperative that we help “unblur” the lines between them and restore some balance to people’s days.

Over the last few months, we have demonstrated an ability to operate under new pressures and realities. This crisis has not only showed us the true L’Oreal spirit, but it also presents us with an opportunity to lean into the cultural characteristics that make L’Oreal a unique and dynamic place to work.

The gradual return to all worksites for our teams is another purposeful and collective experience we will go through safety together. You have my commitment that we will learn from and adjust to our new normal — and the next normal after that — as One L’Oreal.

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Sincerely,

Stephane Rinderknech

President and CEO of L’Oreal USA

 

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