QC Mart comes under fire after the chain’s owner launched a contest asking employees to guess which employee would be fired next.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
In October, the Iowa Des Moines Register reported on the curious plight of William Ernst, the owner of QC Mart in Bettendorf, Iowa.
Faced with employees who were allegedly repeatedly violating company rules, including talking on their cell phones, using inappropriate language and playing videogames on the job, Ernst responded by sending around a memo last March entitled “Guess Who’ll Be Fired Next,” offering a $10 cash prize to any employee that could predict who would be shown the door next from one of the company’s stores in Iowa and Illinois.
The memo outlined the rules of a “contest” which required employees to send him a letter with the name of the next cashier they expected to be fired along with the projected date and time along with their own name. QC Mart would then send secret shoppers to the QC Mart stores to find cashiers who were not wearing the proper uniform or who were behaving in a way that violated company rules. At the time of the firing, employees who guessed correctly would receive $10. Once a cashier got the boot, the contest would begin again.
Perhaps Ernst has an unusual sense of humor, or legitimately thought this contest could help him better learn which employees were causing problems, but regardless, his staff was not amused.
Several employees quit after they received the memo and realized the contest was far from a joke. One such employee was Misty Shelsky, who later filed for unemployment, which Ernst challenged, claiming she had resigned voluntarily. In court, Shelsky testified that she and her colleagues quit because of the hostile work environment created by the contest, which she referred to as “degrading.”
Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman who ruled on the matter called the contest “egregious and deplorable” and sided with the company’s former employees, awarding unemployment benefits. “The employer’s actions have clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting its employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize,” Ackerman said.
Creating a Positive Work Place
What should Ernst have done and how could this scenario have played out differently? CSD spoke with employee relations/retention expert Mel Kleiman of Humetrics Inc.
“If you create a positive, supportive climate and foster staff development, you tend to attract and retain terrific workers,” Kleiman said. “Slackers will leave of their own accord because they won’t get the support of their peers when they start whining. But if you create an environment of suspicion, fear, lack of standards and micromanagement, the good people won’t stay for long.”
In other words, c-store owners need to set standards and hold themselves accountable for holding their people accountable.
“He had people working for him that didn’t follow the rules because he didn’t follow the rules,” Kleiman said, noting the real problem in the situation was not that c-store clerks weren’t living up to the standards, but that the QC Mart managers weren’t enforcing standards.
The people Ernst should have been looking at firing should have been his vice president of operations, area supervisors and the district or area managers, or “even himself, for failing to set an example or keep staff in line,” Kleiman said.
Kleiman cited chains doing wonders with managing employees, such as Kwik Trip in Lacrosse, Wis. and Sheetz in Altoona, Pa. “If you go into a Kwik Trip everyone will have their uniform on, their name tag on, and they will smile, and they don’t have to run a contest to fire people.”
The bottom line is if you want your employees to follow the rules, set expectations and consequences and ensure your area supervisors and managers are holding your c-store staff accountable, Kleiman said. “You have exactly the staff you deserve.”