A Sydney café owner is focusing on rebuilding trust with his customers, after a series of fake job ad posters for his business that contained sexist messaging were posted across Balmain this week, as part of what he says is some “crafty and cunning” work of a disgruntled former employee.
Earlier this week print-outs advertising a position at The Hanging Ladder café popped up taped to telephone polls in the area, asking for a waitress that “could just as easy be in a bikini on beach [sic] spinning heads,” reports The Daily Telegraph.
“Must be comfortable around tradies in a skirt,” the job ad read.
“Pay is generous and cool place chilled boss and manager it’s me hah,” it said.
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However, after noticing the ads and hearing complaints from locals, business owner Andrew McNamara says he immediately thought the posters, which did not come from him, were most likely created by a former worker who had recently been fired.
“I didn’t know anything about this ad at all, then I saw it posted around. I was in a little bit of a panic, thinking how do I damage control this?” McNamara told SmartCompany.
Along with explaining the situation to customers, McNamara says he jumped on the phone to his coffee supplier and explained the situation. He also started to workshop ways to show that the ads did not come from the business and were not the views of the company or its founders.
It was decided the cafe would set up a day of free coffee for female customers, to happen in the next few weeks, to show that it does not support the messaging of the ad and would not stand for it in the community.
“I’ve been in hospitality for 15 years now, I’ve seen a few things like this, like old employees that leave bad reviews, but I’ve never seen anything as crafty and cunning as this,” McNamara says.
McNamara said that while the business had taken down the posters, each day he has noticed a decline in customer numbers and he is now focused on rebuilding trust with customers.
“I noticed a small difference in trade, every day it got a little bit less and a little bit less,” he says.
When reflecting on the situation, McNamara says businesses should act early in any cases where they think staff members are unhappy or disgruntled.
“My advice would be if you see that an employee starts to become disgruntled, you address it earlier. I didn’t have time to address it and I just didn’t find the time,” he says.
Take the emotion out of employee fights, say experts
The story is a reminder to business owners that while conflict with workers could well be a part of life, there are some times when it’s best to clear up any misinformation spread by former employees and move on.
Psychologist Eve Ash, founder of Seven Dimensions, tells SmartCompany that while it might be tempting to get overly emotional when faced with someone trying to make your brand look bad, the most effective thing to do when faced with an embattled staff member is to take calm action.
“If you’ve got a public place, you could just say something — like in this case, “these are not authorised ads,” she says.
“Instead of going for angry posts, the best thing is to just ignore it.”
Ash reminds business owners that even if there has been a feud and you need to let a staff member go, it’s important to do what is lawful, including paying out entitlements.
“Be a professional,” she says.
If a staff member or former employee is acting in a way that is not lawful, the best course of action is to find the relevant expert or authority and go from there, she says.
“I think it’s a common issue for [businesses] to get really incensed and angry,” Ash says.
“But you don’t ever want to give a knee-jerk reaction.”
Ben Watts, director of wattsnext HR, says cases of former workers trying to blacken their employer’s names have skyrocketed since the advent of social media, but in many cases, the only sensible course of action is to take the advice your parents would have given you for the schoolyard, and ignore any provocations.
“They are often looking for a reaction. We see it more and more now and it’s almost impossible to stop this kind of thing now and there’s always a danger, but how much energy you give to fighting it is another thing,” Watts says.
While conflict with former staff members can vary in levels of seriousness, Watts says businesses now commonly face cases where disgruntled individuals bad mouth them on social media. When this happens, it’s often better to ride it out than get involved in any passionate defences or arguments, he says.
“On social media it is very, very difficult, and it can be more damaging [to get into the fight] with it,” Watts says.