McDonald’s and Its HR Department

When HR is weak on investigating complaints and doling out discipline, you get exactly what McDonald’s is going through now. An ugly lawsuit by the board against the company’s departed CEO. The allegations are that Mr. Steve Easterbrook had three sexual relationships with employees, and that the Board approved his severance package without knowledge of such. Now comes an investigation into the HR Department at the company over reports from employees that their complaints were ignored. They feared retaliation and did not pursue further action from HR.

Among the allegations are that the head of HR (chief people officer in McDonald’s Happy Place) joined in on the drinking and inappropriate comment fest at the company’s 2018 Christmas party. When will we learn? Surely “Mad Men” would have sworn companies off these gala events. There was an investigation by legal counsel with this conclusion: Heavy drinking was inappropriate and to let them know if it happened again. That oughta do it.

Therein lies the problem for what would ripen into a mess. The strongest communication about its values that any organization can give is by the action it takes against employees who violate organizational rules and standards. Let them off lightly, and you not only allow the behaviors to continue, but they will get worse. Do a slow-walk investigation and employees get the message. No big deal. You force them to live with it or leave. Employees working in a poisoned culture are never as engaged, productive, or loyal as those who feel that their companies stand by stated values.

The McDonald’s suit and all that will follow is a lesson for all leaders, and, especially, HR VPs, people officers, talent managers or whatever they are calling them now. The folks who get the complaints. Listen up, follow up, and stand up for sanctions.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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