As Hurricane Ian neared on Monday, employees of a Clearwater, Fla., marketing firm gathered in a conference room to watch their CEO on a large screen.
Hurricane Ian, then a category 1 storm that was expected to grow, was a “nothing burger” that was overplayed by the media, said PostcardMania CEO Joy Gendusa, who addressed workers remotely from the passenger seat of a car. Then, she asked those who were afraid of the storm to raise their hands.
“It’s not going to be that bad,” Gendusa said in a video recording of the meeting obtained by The Washington Post.
“Obviously, you feeling safe and comfortable is of the utmost importance, but I honestly want to continue to deliver and I want to have a good end of quarter,” Gendusa said. “And when it turns into nothing, I don’t want it to be like, ‘Great, we all stopped producing because of the media and [thought] maybe that it was going to be terrible.'”
By Monday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had already warned that by midweek the hurricane posed a “significant risk of life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall” to the state’s west coast and the Panhandle. Multiple schools and colleges had already shut their doors in preparation for Ian.
Several PostcardMania employees, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, said Gendusa’s comments made them feel underappreciated and exploited.
Her remarks come as the pandemic and burnout have led many to reevaluate their work conditions, giving rise to conversations about the Great Resignation and quiet quitting.
Hours later, Gendusa’s remarks sparked a barrage of social media comments criticizing the company for urging staffers to work.
The company has since announced its offices will not open on Wednesday and Thursday, adding it would also offer two days of paid time off for those working remotely or volunteering at a shelter, PostcardMania spokeswoman Jessica Lalau told The Post in an email.
Gendusa did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Post.
Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph. It tied the fifth-strongest hurricane to hit the United States. Its winds and flooding would continue as the storm makes its way inland, the National Hurricane Center reported. By Wednesday afternoon, more than 1 million customers in southwestern Florida had lost power.
Several employees present at the Monday meeting told the Post that Gendusa’s remarks made them feel as if their safety was less important than the company making profits. Even when officials were ordering some to evacuate their homes, management expected them to work from the office, employees said.
“She is in her car driving away from us and telling us to keep working,” one employee told the Post. “It just felt wrong. I’m going to have to work and you’re driving in your SUV taking off.”
Another worker added: “There was a huge disconnect between her and her employees. Not everybody lives in a nice place or in a safe place like her.”
After Monday’s meeting, some employees took to private platforms to vent over Gendusa’s remarks. Others, though, were so upset that they shared their discontent with other colleagues from their desks.
It wasn’t until Tuesday when the company sent a message telling employees that the offices would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday, staffers told The Post. But management told workers they must work 40 hours this week. If power went out and they couldn’t work Wednesday or Thursday, they must make up for their hours some time before the end of the week, according to some workers. In response to a question about the 40-hour work requirement, the PosctcardMania spokeswoman shared Gendusa’s Wednesday message.
On Wednesday, following the backlash on social media, the company announced it was giving workers paid time off.
In a Wednesday email sent by company spokeswoman Jessica Lalau and shared with The Post, employees were told that Gendusa’s remarks at the meeting were her “personal opinion” and “not an official PostcardMania position in any way.”
“Following Joy’s remarks, PostcardMania’s president Melissa Bradshaw took the meeting over and reiterated that making sure everyone was safe was our #1 priority,” Lalau said in the email.
But some employees were not buying Gendusa’s attempt to reverse course, calling her statement disingenuous.
“She speaks for the company,” one worker told The Post. “She is the company. She is the boss.”
Even before the company agreed to give them paid time off, workers told The Post, most of them had already decided they were not going to go into the office on Wednesday and Thursday.
One worker attempted to work from home on Wednesday but faced internet issues.
“Even if I wanted to work, I couldn’t,” the worker told The Post. For now, they were staying put at home waiting for whatever Ian would bring.
“There is no company worth sacrificing for,” the worker said. “I wouldn’t give my life [or my belongings] for any company.”