By Todd Humber
Back in the day — and by the “day” I mean like a decade ago — disgruntled employees simply disappeared into the ether.
Now, all they need is a camera and an Internet connection to bring them 15 minutes of fame and to undermine years of employer branding and solid HR work.
Ron Mitchell, an employee with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), wasn’t happy with what he perceived as a lack of respect when, after 30 plus years on the job, he didn’t get a retirement party. So he grabbed his smartphone, and wandered around his workplace on his last day — lamenting, among other things, the lack of a retirement party and what he considered to be a lack of respect both from management and the union. (See video below.)
“Management don’t give a crap about you, the union don’t give a crap about you,” he said, before showing a bulletin board that featured retirement announcements for management employees. In the video, which runs about three-and-a-half minutes, he’s critical of the fact that the TTC made a list of top employers.
“Obviously, they never asked an employee,” he said.
As of Monday morning, the video had been viewed 120,000 times and counting. Whether or not people take him seriously — and a lot of the 700 plus comments on YouTube suggest he didn’t necessarily garner much sympathy for his plight — there’s no denying videos like these can damage a workplace’s reputation.
Mitchell’s immediate boss has apologized, and that seemed to mend the wounds, based on a comment he posted to his own video.
“I have been contacted by my superintendent and received a very heartfelt apology, which I will accept,” wrote Mitchell. “I believe him to be very sincere and I have had great respect for him through the years, and have always felt that he earned his position through on the job experience.”
The TTC also publicly apologized to Mitchell, calling the situation a “mix-up” and said the party “fell through the cracks” because his last day was close to Christmas, said spokesperson Brad Ross.
“We pride ourselves on being a good employer,” said Ross, according to the Toronto Sun. “This is something that is most unfortunate and we regret terribly and do apologize to Mr. Mitchell. We value the long-service of our employees… three-plus decades, that’s quite exceptional. We need to correct this and we are.”
Mitchell is far from the first disgruntled employee to turn a lens onto the workplace, and he won’t be the last. In the fall, I wrote about Marina Shifrin, an American who resigned from her job at Next Media Animation (NMA) in Taiwan via an interpretative dance video set to the Kanye West song “Gone.” That video has been viewed more than 17 million times.
NMA responded with its own video, which tried to cast the workplace in a positive light. It was a humorous response to an unusual situation.
Videos like the ones from Mitchell and Shifrin will undoubtedly continue to arise. Even the best workplaces, with the best policies, will have something fall through the cracks from time to time or encounter a worker who won’t be pleased, no matter what the company tries to do to placate them.
But HR professionals and employers can learn from these videos and the reactions from the TTC and NMA. In both cases, the responses were pitch perfect. The TTC immediately and genuinely apologized, and moved quickly to make amends with Mitchell. NMA’s situation was different — no apology was really necessary, so it used humour to try and counter the message.
Both examples may help you get ready for your close-up if one of your workers turns on the camera in an attempt to grab their 15 minutes of game.
Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TTC video
Marina Shifrin's resignation from NMA