Thursday, August 14, 2008

What We Can Learn From the Burger King Bath Caper

Yesterday morning I woke up to my regular routine of CNN and coffee. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because I almost always see something I could have gone all day without exposing my tender little soul to. Yesterday’s Dread Treat o’ the Day was the YouTube film clip of the Burger King employee celebrating his birthday by taking a bath in the utility sink of a Xenia, OH, Burger King.

A tattooed guy sitting starkers in the suds just isn’t my idea of celebrating joy in the workplace. And it really bums me out. Why? Because, as a consultant specializing in employee engagement, all my work revolves around my core principle: The workplace is where excellent employers can partner with high-passion employees to save the world. It can be one vaccine at a time, or one Whopper at a time. When both sides of the employment equation (employers and employees) treat their shared enterprise with respect, amazing things can happen.

So when I see examples of low-passion people abusing the privilege of serving the world, I see evidence of people giving up on their dream – and, by extension, themselves. And that breaks my heart. By giving up on the dream of excellence for yourself, you’re wrecking it for everyone around you. Mediocrity is like food coloring. Just the tiniest drop in a glass of clear water stains the whole shebang.

My first assumption here is that when someone offered this guy a job, they gave up the dream right then and there. This morning, watching him interviewed post-ablution for what must have been a local tv news show, he’s wearing goth make-up, his hair bundled in a configuration of piglets, and on his hands are fingerless gloves with a skeleton design on them for a trompe l’oeils effect. I’m wondering to myself: Did he dress that way for the job interview as well? In which case, I’m wondering how he got the job to begin with. Or did he just slowly start assembling this new personality in hopes that no one will notice the gradual transformation? In which case, I’m wondering, how come no one pointed out that wearing goth makeup and little piglets might scare away the customers?

Employees who spit on the dream scare away more than just the customers. They disenfranchise the aforementioned high-passion employees. Can you imagine how demoralizing it must have been to work side-by-side with this guy, if you really care about your job and your customers? Can you imagine how demoralizing it must be right now to work at that particular store, knowing that his shift manager was also fired – perhaps unfairly – because she had to keep her eyes on the cash registers and serve the customers rather than stop this idiot from running amok in the back?

Who hired this guy anyway?

Every hiring manager who works in a company that deeply cares about its customers and its culture owes it to the current employees to continue hiring well and wisely. Even if that means holding out for just the right culture fit. As former Apple chief talent officer Dan Walker has been known to say, “I’d rather have a hole than an [well, I think you might be able to finish this sentence; if you’re struggling, email me and I’ll whisper it in your ear].”

And what about chasing away future high-passion employees? Can you imagine how ridiculous the company will look if it now has to include in its employee handbook, “There will be no taking of baths in Burger King utility sinks.” Just having such a policy (or something like it) would be demoralizing to quality employees and candidates who would be wondering, “Does this company hire the kinds of people who need to be told this? Maybe I’d better keep looking.”

By the way, just in case you’re stopped by the notion of Burger King actually saving the world, let me tell you a story. When I was a little girl (around 8), my mother was very, very sick from a disease she’d die from a few years later. And during this period she often was bedridden at suppertime. So my father would take me to a Miami-area Burger King where we would sit together, just the two of us, talking over the day’s trivia over a Whopper and a milkshake, trying to keep each other’s spirits up.

That was 40 years ago (more or less; well, okay, more) and now he is gone as well. But still to this day, every time I bite into a Whopper and fill my mouth with its distinct taste, I remember those nights when a young man and his little girl kept the fears and the loneliness at bay, sitting across the table from each other in the bright lights of a Burger King.

Burger King saved my world. And it deserves some respect. As do all the high-passion people who work there. You just never know who they’re serving. And why.

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