Punish an Employee For a CEO’s Bad Behavior? Yes.

Dawn Burke Corporate Social Responsibility, Current Affairs, Dawn Burke, Leadership

Or no?

I waited for Uber for so long.  Despite being the largest city in Alabama, it took a while to get to Birmingham. However, as a frequent traveler, I’d gotten used to the convenience of Uber in a big, big way.  So, when Uber finally arrived in Birmingham early 2016 I did a triple-lindy.

Then 2017 happened.

Despite what I can only call the Beavis and/or Butthead behavior of CEO Travis Kalanick, I still used Uber.  Frankly, male CEOs acting like spoiled puppies (you know, the ones that chew up your slippers behind your back) have been indoctrinated in American culture for decades (often lauded).  This behavior just didn’t seem out of the ordinary.  Come on… JR Ewing, Shug Knight, Roy Kohn, Rob Ford, Martin Shkreli, Gordon Gekko, Ari Gold, Don Draper. The Enron bastards.  Steve Jobs was a dick.  One word: Trump.

If I walked away from every company whose CEO thought rules didn’t apply to him (yes, him), or refused to buy products from every company who had a less than reputable CEO, I may be living in a lean-to on the beach, selling seashells, or maybe going full out Cast-Away talking to a volleyball.  In a nutshell, I didn’t really think to walk away from Uber because their CEO apparently fit into the “bad-boy” category.  What’s new?

But there was another reason why I stuck with Uber for a good while.  My experience with their drivers.  To date I have never had one bad experience with my Uber ride. Not one. Not one.  So, in 2017, during the Uber-plosion period, I decided to ask each of my drivers specifically why they worked at Uber.  The answers I got: 

  • “This is the only way I can go to school and work.”
  • “I lost my job and it has been great during my transition period.”
  • “After 15 years as a manager at McDonald’s, I decided I wanted control of my schedule so I could see my family.”
  • “I retired and was bored.  I love my city, and wanted to share the city with others.”
  • “I’ve been in the driving service industry my whole life. At Uber I don’t have to wear a limo-driver uniform!”  (This guy was really cool, btw.)

I also asked the same drivers if they were happy with Uber.  The vast majority said yes.  Many were not happy with the recent press, and a few were not happy with new pay changes.  But overall the company was providing these drivers a good opportunity.  These are reasons I decided to stick with Uber despite my growing disdain for the corporate cultural issues surfacing.  A harassment culture is nothing to joke about.

Here comes the Ouch part:

A good friend of mine (a male, btw) called me out my decision to stick with Uber, especially given the reports of a rampant harassment culture against women. I told him my experiences were good, there weren’t a lot of other options, and why punish good drivers for a really bad apple.

He paused and stated, “there is no real change if there are no real consequences.”


My conscience was torn. But his comment was true. The truth is, a company, whether fair or not, is a reflection of its leader. Leaders take on great rewards but also great risk. If a CEO wants to believe his own hype, and act like a bad-boy ‘cliché’, he is taking the risk of tarnishing the reputation of his upstanding employees. If customers decide to leave, in spite of great employee service, that is on the leader, not the customer.

I guess the HR takeaway is, have the courage to call a leader out on their bad behavior.  Not for the sake of the stockholders, but for the sake of innocent, hard-working employees who will get swept up in the tsunami.

So, for a while I am going to use Lyft.  It is now in Birmingham too.  And while Uber continues to clean up its act, I’ll reward their employees with my dollars as well.