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Indian American CEO, Niraj Shah, faces flack for ‘work longer hours’ memo in year-end message

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Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah’s year-end memo to his employees did not go down well with many of them and the public. The Boston-based online retailer of home goods faced a backlash after Shah’s email, which urged workers to work harder and longer hours, was leaked to the media.

Public outcry over Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah's year-end message(AP/bostontechleaders)
Public outcry over Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah’s year-end message(AP/bostontechleaders)

Shah sent the memo last week to the company’s salaried corporate employees, according to Business Insider, who first reported it. In the email, Shah praised the company’s performance in the third quarter of 2023, but also warned that the competition was fierce and that employees needed to be more aggressive, pragmatic, frugal, agile, customer-oriented, and smart.

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He also dismissed some of the “Nirajisms,” or sayings attributed to him about the company’s culture, as either false, outdated, or out of context. One of them was, “Niraj said that he does not think that we should work late.”

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Shah wrote, “I would suggest that this is laughably false. Hard work is essential for success, and a key part of getting things done. Everyone deserves to have a great personal life – everyone manages that in their own way – ambitious people find ways to blend and balance the two.”

“Working long hours, being responsive, blending work and life, is not anything to shy away from. There is not a lot of history of laziness being rewarded with success. Hard work is an essential ingredient in any recipe for success. I embrace this, and the most successful people I know do as well.”

Shah’s memo came after Wayfair reported a 3.7% increase in sales to $2.9 billion in the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. The company also reduced its net loss by 42%, from $283 million in 2022 to $163 million in 2023. Shah attributed the improvement to the company’s market share growth, repeat customer rate, supplier relationships, and profitability.

“As we work our way through the holiday season it is really encouraging to see that we are back to winning. Winning feels good – and is a great reward for all of our efforts,” Shah wrote.

“This is something to be very proud of.”

The year-end email sparks public outcry

However, not everyone was impressed by Shah’s message. Many netizens expressed their displeasure and vowed to boycott Wayfair over its CEO’s work ethic. Some also called for the company to unionize its workers.

“I’m boycotting and not purchasing anything from this greedy company,” one user posted on X (formerly Twitter).

Another user, @PortiaMcGonagal, echoed that sentiment saying, “A company I’ve purchased from and been satisfied by. My mom too. And now, I won’t be buying from anymore.”

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Wayfair defended its CEO and its culture in a statement: “We are incredibly proud of our world-class team and culture of open communication. In his note, which was sent to our salaried corporate employees, Niraj was reinforcing some of the values that have contributed to Wayfair’s success, including questioning the status quo, being cost-efficient and working hard together to drive results.”

However some experts doubted that Shah’s approach would work in the long run. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, told CNN that Shah’s memo could backfire and alienate his employees.

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