Disgruntled is not just a pig that’s lost its voice

Tony Jaques provides a timely reminder that crises don't always begin from some unknown entity outside an organisation - disgruntled employees are also likely candidates.

The disgruntled employee wreaking revenge on a company may seem like a movie plot or a clickbait cliché. But one Australian fast food outlet learned recently it can be a very real threat to brand and reputation.

A former worker at the Domino’s Pizza store in Lismore, New South Wales, posted photos on Facebook said to show filthy kitchen conditions at the outlet.

The images – including mouldy cheese, insipid prawns and dirty workbenches – were shared more than 900 times and prompted over 800 reactions, mainly predictable expressions of disgust and pledges never to visit the outlet again. However some former employees came to the store’s defence, saying that during their time cleanliness was A1 and food was always fresh.

The Domino’s store Source

For its part, the response by Domino’s was decisive and effective, and they immediately closed the store while an investigation took place.

“We take matters relating to food safety and hygiene extremely seriously and have strict standards in place to ensure these protocols are adhered to,” said the company spokeswoman. “We are investigating the matter as a priority and we are also working with an independent auditor to do their own assessment so we can be fully confident this store can and is operating to only the highest of food safety standards.”

It was a textbook response and the story soon lost momentum. Yet it was a reminder of the potential crisis risk posed by disgruntled workers. Just weeks earlier, in the midst of the nationwide ‘needles in strawberries’ food tampering scare, the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association was quick to claim that “initial reports point towards a disgruntled employee.”

The reality is that revenge by disgruntled employees is not uncommon and is a genuine risk.

• Scott McCormick left the Red Rooster outlet in Indooroopilly, Queensland, after an argument with his boss and used the company inventory system to order more than $67,000 worth of chickens from five separate suppliers. Fortunately one of the suppliers raised the alarm and his boss called the police.

• Juan Rodriguez was fired from the Marriott Hotel in New York and remotely accessed the reservation system to reduce the hotel tariff on all 3,000 rooms to as little as $10 a night. His so-called ‘Robin Hood’ action cost the hotel more than $50,000 and he faced three felony charges.

• An employee at Twitter used their last day on the job to switch off Donald Trump’s account and the world was denied the President’s thoughts for all of 11 minutes. The company initially claimed the account was inadvertently deactivated “due to a human error by a Twitter employee” but eventually came clean.

• A Melbourne IT engineer hacked into his employer’s mainframe computer and changed data value settings because he felt he was under appreciated and wanted to cause stress to the management. It cost more than $10,000 to repair the damage.

While there is a whole library of HR advice on how to recognise and manage disgruntled employees in advance of a grave misdeed, the lessons for crisis managers are clear – act promptly, don’t try to cover up, recognise and address the concerns of affected stakeholders, and demonstrate the steps you are taking to prevent it happening again. As Domino’s showed in Lismore, it isn’t that hard to do the right thing.

Tony Jaques is the managing director of Issue Outcomes P/L.


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