I was disappointed and disgusted at the Varsity Blues scandal that broke two weeks ago. Rich folks, like Full House star Lori Loughlin and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman were able to pay bribes to get their kids into elite colleges like Stanford, USC, Yale and Harvard. It broke my heart.
Varsity Blues Says Fairness Is Not Important
Number one, think about all the kids who try to get in to these places by working hard and earning their admission. They get supplanted by kids whose parents have the money to get them to the head of the line. That flies in the face of any concept of fairness. Now we all know that life is not fair, but we hope it is. Especially when it comes to things like getting into a university. It should be fair.
Varsity Blues Sets Bad Examples
Number two, think about the example these parents set.
I’ve never watched Full House or Desperate Housewives, but I am a big fan of William H. Macy (who is married to Felicity Huffman and must have known what was going on) ever since I saw him play Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. Lundegaard was a slimy, disgusting character who tries to have his wife kidnapped so he can get his father-in-law to pay him the ransom. I thought Macy did a great job of acting the part of a scoundrel. Now I realize he wasn’t acting. I know that when I see him in a movie from now on, I won’t be able to erase that impression of him. In fact, I probably will avoid his movies all together.
Impact On Employees
My reaction reminds me of a 2018 study by Clutch (a business research firm) that looked at what employees value most in their jobs. The results:
#1 Compensation and reward that’s fairly awarded.
#2, Treating the workforce fairly.
#3 Maintaining high ethical standards.
In other words, employees value fairness and honesty.
My 30+ years of experience working with more than 300 corporations and government organizations confirms those results. Employees want honesty and fairness. And, when they feel like you’re not being so, they will almost always respond negatively.
For example, in our book Absolute Honesty: Building A Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity, my co-author Bob Phillips and I tell the story of my friend Edd, who worked as an inspector for the state agency that licenses nursing homes. His job was to inspect facilities to make sure they met state and federal guidelines for quality of care, health, and safety standards. If a home didn’t pass an inspection, it was usually given a period of time to correct the problem before another inspection was conducted. Then, if the problem was not corrected, the inspector could impose fines, suspend the home’s license, and/or shut the place down for good. It all depended on the severity of the infractions.
Edd’s Experience With A Varsity Blues Like Situation
Edd had put a particular nursing home on probation for failure to correct several deficiencies in delivering and documenting adequate care to its residents. The place was also cited for being dirty and having a urine smell.
When Edd returned to do a follow-up inspection, things appeared to have improved. The place was cleaner and the problems that had caused the probation seemed to have been corrected. As Edd was preparing to leave, a staff nurse took him aside and told him to check out Mrs. Jones’s chart, where he found some glaring discrepancies. While he was doing this, an aide leaned over his shoulder and said, “If you think that’s bad, check out the condition of Mr. Smith’s catheter in room 4B.” While he was checking this out, another aide told him to look at Mrs. Thompson’s untreated bedsores and compare them to what was in the chart. And while he was on his way to do that, the maintenance man suggested that he take a look at the dreadful condition of the facility’s plumbing.
After closing the place down permanently, Edd asked staff members why they had been willing to “snitch” on their own employer and put themselves out of a job. It turned out that, in its effort to cut costs, the corporate office of the chain that owned the nursing home had set up a contest for the administrators of each facility. Those who could cut spending on nursing pool help by 50% would earn a free trip to Hawaii. (Nursing pools are temporary personnel agencies that specialize in supplying nurses and nurses’ aides to the healthcare industry. The cost of hiring a temporary nurse from a pool is two to three times that of a nurse’s normal salary and benefits, so nursing homes use them reluctantly.)
In his desire to win the trip, the administrator of this facility had told the staff that there was no money for pool personnel. Consequently, if they were short staffed, they would have to work with fewer people, which would increase their already immense workload, and they would have to work more double shifts, which were burning them out at a rapid rate.
Employees May Seek Revenge
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the staff got wind of the administrator’s motives. It was just then that my friend Edd showed up for the follow-up inspection so staff members took their revenge.
No one likes to be lied to or used. When employees feel like their management has not been truthful with them, or is engaged in wrongdoing, they can, and usually will, try to even the score. It may not be as severe as the folks in this nursing home. But, at the minimum, an air of cynicism and subtle hostility toward management and the company will develop that can be very difficult to undo.
Shades of Varsity Blues Apply Everywhere
Think of the waiter who will tell you NOT to eat the meatloaf because the cook’s in a bad mood. Or the disgruntled service rep who berates her own company’s charges on your bill. In our travels as consultants, Bob and I had a hotel employee tell us that we could get a nicer room, at a better price, with a competitor down the street. Obviously, he had some kind of ax to grind with his management.
I don’t know what you want to do with this bit of wisdom that Edd passed along to us. It’s probably a good idea to make sure that everything you do as a manager is on the up and up because your employees are watching you.
The saddest aspect of the Varsity Blues story, I think, is that the kids of these rich people were given an example that will affect their values all their lives.
If you’d like to read more on the topic of building trust with your employees, check out my blog article SCIENTIFIC PROOF: EMPLOYEE TRUST = MORE PRODUCTIVITY.