Changes in the works at Electronic Arts

It’s part of a modern-day sweat-shop industry with it’s high-tech work force toiling like galley slaves chained to their benches. So said the New York Times in an article last month describing Electronic Arts.

This is about ea_spouse, the wife of the Electronic Arts employee who wrote in her personal blog last month a from-the-heart tale about working conditions and practices at the game developer and the effects on her husband and family.

As a result, EA has been pilloried in parts of the media and in blog posts during the past month as an uncaring employer running a proverbial sweatshop.

Throughout, EA has kept silent, refusing to publicly comment on the issue, maintaining that this is an internal employer/employee matter. But clearly they have been paying attention to underlying workplace issues that ea_spouse’s blog post highlighted.

An internal memo issued to employees by Rusty Rueff, EA’s Senior VP of Human Resources – obtained by and published today on the Kotaku gamers’ site – tacitly recognizes those underlying issues and outlines steps the company says it will take to address them.

Rueff’s memo starts:

The last few weeks of reading blogs and the media about EA culture and work practices have not been easy. I know personally how hard it is when so much of the news seems negative. We have purposefully not responded to web logs and the media because the best way to communicate is directly with you, our team members.

At the heart of the memo is comment that the company is considering a change in how it classifies jobs with regard to overtime eligibility – the core issue described in detail in ea_spouse’s blog post.

I’m not going to comment more about EA’s employment structure or practices as I don’t know what they are. What I will say, though, is from a communication point of view EA is doing some right things by addressing workplace issues within the framework of their internal communication process. Rueff again:

Three weeks ago we issued our bi-annual Talk Back Survey and more than 80 percent of you participated – much higher than the norm for a company our size. That tells me you care and are committed to making EA better. In the next 30 days we’ll have the survey results and we will share them openly with you by the middle of January. […] We recognize that this doesn’t get fixed with one email or in one month. It’s an on-going process of communication and change. […] With some smart thinking and specific actions we will fix these issues and become stronger as a company.

So, is all this because of the negative publicity? Did blogs play a big influencing role? I think we’ll need Mr Rueff to answer that. One thing is clear, though – ea_spouse’s blog post started the ball rolling so in that regard, a blog played a very big role.

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