And the Worst Manager for ANY Year Award Goes to….
A manager of an Olive Garden in Kansas City sent an email to her employees after she got tired of one too many of them calling in sick that went viral for its cruelty, and she (rightfully) got fired for sending it. What you can learn from her email that should have been left as a draft!
“We are no longer tolerating ANY EXCUSE for calling off. If you’re sick, you need to come prove it to us. If your dog died, you need to bring him in and prove it to us.
If its (sp) a ‘family emergency’ and you can’t say, too bad. Go work somewhere else.
If you only want morning shifts, too bad go work at a bank.
If anyone from here on out calls off more than ONCE in the next 30 days you will not have a job.”
— From an email from a now former manager of the Olive Garden in suburban Kansas City
We’ve ALL been there! We’ve all reached the limits of our patience on the job. Something happens, or more likely, something happens AGAIN - and for the umpteenth time. And in our frustration, we sit down at our desk or take out our phone wherever we happen to be and go to craft out an email - the email that will solve it all!
We all know THAT feeling. You’re frustrated. You’re angry. Your blood pressure is up. Your patience has not just worn thin, but it has been broken by “whatever” the last straw might have been in regards to that certain “something.” And so you sit down at your desk, or maybe on a couch in the furniture showroom in the store you manage or in a quiet booth in the back corner of the restaurant you manage, or maybe just in the quiet of your car, and you begin to compose an email about that “something.” You’re going to stop that “something” that has been causing not just your work life - but your life - to be more stressful - and maybe even cost you customers, sales, and yes, maybe even employees - with this one email! Oh, and since you are “writing mad” - the email starts to take shape VERY quickly, as negative adjectives and angry adverbs just start flowing from your fingertips and onto your screen. You think to yourself, this is the EASIEST email that I have ever written. And when my employees read it - problem solved!
Well, one manager overseeing an Olive Garden in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City) recently wrote just such an email. She was maddened by her restaurant staff constantly calling in sick, and in her frustration, she sat down wrote a very angry email likely very fast - and then sent it! And now she’s been fired by Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden, which also operates a number of other well-known national restaurant brands, including Longhorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Bahama Breeze, The Capital Grille, and more. Her email and her firing - her rightful firing by the way - for having sent it - provides all of us with an abject lesson in why yes, sometimes, such emails written in haste and in anger should stay in your draft folder - forever. As such, this article could - literally - save your job, your career, and your (and your company's) reputation!
The “Dead Dog” Email
Obviously, the female manager at the Overland Park, Kansas Olive Garden had had enough with people “calling off,” which in restaurant lingo meant an employee calling in sick or otherwise unable to work. And so she crafted an email and sent it out to all of the employees under her at the restaurant, and it read - and I quote it verbatim below (and yes, there are some grammar and punctuation issues - as it would appear to have been written in both anger and in haste):
Attention ALL Team Members:
Our call offs are occurring at a staggering rate. From now on, if you call off, you might as well go out and look for another job. We are no longer tolerating ANY EXCUSE for calling off. If you’re sick, you need to come prove it to us. If your dog died, you need to bring him in and prove it to us.
If its a ‘family emergency’ and you can’t say, too bad. Go work somewhere else.
If you only want morning shifts, too bad go work at a bank.
If anyone from here on out calls off more than ONCE in the next 30 days you will not have a job.
Do you know in my 11.5 years at Darden how many days I called off? Zero. I came in sick. I got in a wreck literally on my way to work one time, airbags went off and my car was totaled, but you know what, I made it to work, ON TIME!
There are no more excuses. Us, collectively as a management team have had enough. If you don’t want to work here, don’t. It’s as simple as that. If you’re here and want to work, then work.”
No more complaining about not being cut or not being able to leave early. You’re in the restaurant business. Do you think I want to be here until midnight on Friday and Saturday? No. I’d much rather be at home with my husband and dog, going to the movies or seeing family.
'But I don’t, I’m dedicated to being here. As should you. No more excuses or complaints.
'I hope you choose to continue to work here and I think we (management) make it as easy as we can on ya’ll. Thank you for your time and thank you to those who come in every day on time and work hard. I wish there were more like you.'
Of course, you just know what was going to happen next in the age in which we live. 1, 2, 3… maybe many more - of her employees posted the email on social media, and of course, it quickly went viral! With a social media firestorm brewing and their corporate image/reputation at stake, Olive Garden’s parent company was suddenly at DEFCON 1! Darden’s corporate office quickly got involved, and the manager at their suburban Kansas City restaurant was summarily - and quite appropriately - fired. Darden’s public relations team also quickly leapt into action, issuing the perfunctory corporate PR statement, which stated that: “
We (Darden) strive to provide a caring and respectful work environment for our team members. This message is not aligned with our company’s values. We can confirm we have parted ways with this manager.”
To their credit, Darden did react to the situation at hand just about as well as any major national company could have been expected to under the circumstances. But still, #OliveGarden was trending on social media - and not for the right reasons…
And there was not just local media coverage of the manager’s “dead dog” email and her firing, like the Kansas City TV station’s story on what had transpired…
…and national TV network news stories that definitely countered Olive Garden’s brand imaging of “When you’re here, you’re family!:”
… as there were major news stories with attention-getting headlines like the ones below that made the story go even more viral (and yes, these were but a few of the many that appeared in just the first two days after the incident “went live” on social media!):
- In The Takeout: “Olive Garden Manager Fired for One Hell of a Sick Leave Policy: A manager at a Kansas Olive Garden tried and failed to institute a totalitarian regime.;”
- In Fortune: “Olive Garden Manager Fired After Demanding Staff Show Her Their Dead Pets If They Want a Sick Day for It.;”
- In The Washington Post: “Olive Garden Fires Manager for Time-off Rant: ‘If your dog died ... prove it.;’”
- In Entrepreneur: “'If You're Sick, You Need to Come Prove It': Olive Garden manager fired over disturbing memo to employees asking for time off.;”
- And internationally, in The Daily Mail: “'If Your Dog Died, You Need to Bring Him in and Prove It to Us': Kansas Olive Garden manager is FIRED after telling staff if they call in sick 'you might as well go out and look for another job."
And that - REALLY - was but a few of the articles that quickly appeared in the wake of the incident! And yes, while many people would read the manager’s email, view new stories about it, and read - and maybe even share - articles detailing what had happened and just ascribe this to a manager having a real bad, no good, horrible day and then writing - and sending - an email in her frustration with employees calling in sick, there was - no doubt - some negative publicity - at least in the short-term - for both Olive Garden and for the whole of Darden’s restaurant chains.
Now, the question has to be asked: Could Olive Garden and its parent company, Darden, have done anything to prevent this from happening? As a strategic management consultant and professor, one would like to say “yes” (as this - the desire of company's big and small to play "prevent defense" - is, in many ways, what drives much of the consulting and “expert” business today!). Sure, it would be easy to say that with the right management training having been conducted, with the right policies and procedures having been put in place, with the right attention having been paid to developing the corporate culture, etc., this situation - or worse - could have been avoided. However, I’m going to have to say that the more accurate - and honest answer is that “no.” This is because in the end, in the age in which we live, work, and manage, there is nothing that ANY company - no matter how big or how small, no matter the industry, and even if the firm might be regarded as a “good” - or even “great” - place to work (and appear on those lists!) - could have done to prevent this specific incident from taking place.
Simply put, you can’t "out-train," "out-policy" or "out-procedure" your way out of every possible "thing" that can take place in the workplace and every possible action that a worker, and yes, a manager, might take. This is just one of those situations that a company should look upon as a learning opportunity, ifffffffff it is indeed a one-off. Now, if you have one manager at one restaurant in Kansas City “go off” in an email like this, that’s indeed an anomaly. It’s a situation that caused likely a disruption - to say the least - at that particular restaurant, a short-term PR problem for the company as a whole, and yes, something that will make corporate executives ask some questions about training and yes, policies and procedures. One angry, shouldn’t have been sent email is not however, in my opinion, a corporate crisis. But, theoretically speaking, of course, mind you, an additional one, two or even more Olive Garden managers going-off - perhaps a manager in Cleveland hitting an employee at a performance review or a manager in suburban Seattle throwing a bowl of salad at a customer who took the “endless salad bowl” thing a bit too far - THAT would add-up to a full blown PR - and management - crisis for Darden! This, however, is not a corporate crisis; An embarrassment, yes, but more of a "blip" than a real crisis by any means!
However, this story is an important reminder to all of us of a simple rule that can save any of our careers - just like it would have saved the job and reputation of the manager of that Olive Garden manager in suburban Kansas City. This is the rule that you should never - never ever, ever - send an email (or even a text), submit a memo, a report or an analysis - without taking a moment to reread what you just wrote. Hey, you may just catch a grammar or punctuation error (or 2, or 3, or…). But even more importantly, you get the chance to rethink what you said - and look at how you said it - in that moment. And if you take the extra step of asking someone else you trust - be it a work colleague (at your level, above you, or even below you in rank), or if the circumstances are appropriate, a friend or even your significant other - to read the email or other communication over before you send it, perhaps they will offer up some insight into how what you are trying to say may not be what people will get out of your communication - and perhaps something far, far different from what you intended. That critical eye is invaluable, and if you had someone or someone you can trust to be honest with you on an important matter, it might just save you a world of trouble - and maybe, even an unplanned career change!
And so yes, I would say that this article should be required reading for anyone working in business, in education, really in any setting today - and especially so for those with the word “manager” somehow, someway in their title. Let this “dead dog” email story/case study be an important reminder to us all to think - really think, and then, maybe think again - about what we are saying in our written communications and how our words will be perceived. And we should think about not just how our words will be received and perceived by the intended audience, but ultimately, as happens in our social media world, potentially by everyone today! This simple step could save you a whole lot of headaches as a manager - and maybe, even your own job as well!
About David Wyld
David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld.
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