Leaked Applebee’s Email Reveals How Managers View Employees

Several years back, I had a comment on one of my articles that I will never forget.

The reader said, “Being an employee of several different companies, I can honestly say that I’ve felt like nothing more than a line item on a spreadsheet somewhere that an accountant is desperately trying to eliminate.”

I’ve thought about those words a lot over the years, and I wish they weren’t true.

Sadly, in more than thirty years in leadership, I have seen countless managers who see employees this way – a cost that needs to be eliminated.

In the past week, one of those managers made headlines.

You might have seen the news. An email from Wayne Pankratz, executive director of operations for Applebee’s restaurant, was leaked onto Reddit.

In the email, Pankratz encourages franchise managers to use the current economic challenges of inflation and high gas costs as an opportunity to lower overall employee wages.

He argues that, as prices rise and government stimulus money wanes, people relying on unemployment funds will look for work. He says this will create an advantageous labor market for the restaurant chain allowing it to hire employees at a lower cost.

He sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity to reduce Applebee’s personnel expenses and increase profits.

Pankratz has the same view as many short-sighted managers – they see employees as a cost and not an asset.

Short-sighted managers see employees as a cost and not an asset. Click To Tweet

By seeing people only as a costly expense, these managers think the quickest way to make more profit is by reducing people or salaries.

They look at employees as an expense or a problem that must be reduced or eliminated.

Great leaders see things differently. They consider employees as an asset.

In accounting terms, assets are company resources that have future economic value.

Instead of seeing employees as a problem, great leaders see them as a valuable resource. They know that people can grow sales, satisfy customers, improve processes, and innovate products. They can also do countless other things that add money to the top and bottom line.

As a CEO, I see daily examples of this in my business.

If you think of employees as an asset, you treat them differently. Click To Tweet

If you think of employees as an asset, as I do, you treat them differently. You understand the importance of keeping them happy and operating at peak performance. You recognize the importance of leadership.

You realize your team will be at their best when they are loved, appreciated, respected, engaged, and acknowledged.

It seems simple to me, but it’s not often practiced.

Where do you stand? Do you see employees as an expense, like Pankratz, or an asset?

If you see employees as an asset, you know the importance of leadership.

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[Photo by Taylor Davidson on Unsplash]

The Grinch who Fired 900 Employees on Zoom before Christmas

What kind of boss fires 900 employees on Zoom right before Christmas?

When you think you’ve seen the worst in corporate leadership behavior, a story comes along that is almost hard to believe.

You may have heard about it.

On December 1, CEO of the mortgage company Better.com, Vishal Garg, hastily summoned 900 U.S. employees onto a Zoom call.

In the call, he announced that all of their employment was “terminated effective immediately.” The 900 fired employees represented 9% of Better.com’s workforce.

What’s even more strange is the week before the call, the company had received $750 million as part of their public offering. Better.com was rich with cash and had more than $1 billion on its balance sheet.

But that didn’t matter to Vishal Garg.

People are a problem to a boss like him, whose personal net worth is over $4 billion. They are a nuisance, a bother, and an expense that needs to be eliminated.

Many bosses see people as a problem that needs to be eliminated. Click To Tweet

It didn’t matter that it was Christmas or that these 900 employees had helped build Better.com into a company worth more than $7 billion.


To Garg, these workers stood in the way of his goals, so he simply fired them all.

No notice. No warning. No mercy.

And this isn’t the first time the brash, impetuous, and often volatile Garg has shown a complete lack of care for his workers. According to former employees, Garg’s aggressive and insensitive behavior created a toxic work environment.

In one example, he wrote an abusive email to a group of employees that said, “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS and…DUMB DOLPHINS get caught in nets and eaten by sharks. SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”

His outbursts, put-downs, and insults caused problems for staffers and forced many good employees to quit.

But the mass firing seemed to be the final blow to the fractured culture.

Since the event, many high-ranking executives have fled the company, including the head of marketing, vice president of communications, and public relations director.

And even more resignations are expected.

One worker told The Daily Beast that after the mass firing, “[The] company culture took a DEEP dive, and everyone I’ve spoken to is looking to leave.”

Now, I don’t know much about Vishal Garg, but I know a lot about leadership. And Garg is not a leader.

He failed to understand the basic principle I wrote about in I Have the Watch that leadership is a people business.

Leadership is a people business. Click To Tweet

It’s about motivating people towards a goal, not harassing them to do your bidding.

And the heart of great leadership is treating people with respect.

Narcissistic bosses like Garg forget that leaders are responsible for both the mission AND the people. All they care about is filling their personal bank account.

When you treat people like a problem and a nuisance, you destroy the culture. And when you kill the culture, you lose any chance of accomplishing your mission.

Better.com is now a damaged business due to the actions of another lousy boss.

What kind of boss fires 900 employees on Zoom right before Christmas? A bad one.

Don’t be a bad boss.


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You can find it HERE or on Amazon.

A Sense of Belonging

Can you remember a time when you felt like you really belonged?

For me, it was the day I became a submariner.

During the pinning ceremony, the gold dolphin insignia was placed on my uniform signifying I was a qualified submarine officer. That insignia told the world I belonged to an exceptional group of people qualified in underwater warfare.

It was one of my proudest moments, and it’s an important identity I have kept my whole life.

So what about you? How do you feel when you really belong?

There something powerful about that feeling. It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. The problem is that this feeling is missing for so many people. Unfortunately, COVID has even made the situation worse. Young people, especially, are feeling increasingly disconnected.

It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. Click To Tweet

While we are connected more-and-more virtually, we are becoming disconnected both physically and emotionally.

Human connection was a primary topic in my conversation with Gabriel Klingman on my recent podcast episode. Gabriel was a manager at Starbucks for nearly a decade. One of the things he observed about young people is that they had a real “longing to belong.”

He also observed that, if you could create an environment where they felt like they were part of something special, it unleashed their potential as an employee. They became dedicated to what they did because there was a feeling of belonging.

He observed that belonging drove performance, especially with younger employees.

Creating a sense of belonging is an integral part of leadership. As you build your team, you need to consider if your employees feel like they belong to something special.

Have you created an environment where it’s special to be part of your tribe? Or is it just a job?

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. It can be where people can go, have friends, and strive together towards a common goal.

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. Click To Tweet

For some people, it might be the only place where they feel like they belong. They might have a troubled home life, but when they come to work, there’s stability. I know for me, my business feels more like a family than a company.

The question is, how can you create a culture of belonging within your team?

Creating a high-performance culture and a high-performing team requires a feeling of belonging and connection.

I challenge you today to think about how you can create a tribe with a true sense of belonging. It will help your employees reach their full potential and help you become a more effective leader.

Listen in to my whole discussion with Gabriel Klingman here.

I have the watch


P.S. I understand many who are reading this have bosses who don’t understand the value of people and relationships. For those of you with bosses like this, I am offering a new service. For just $10, I will anonymously mail a copy of my book, “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following,” to your boss with a personal note. Click here and enter the discount code BOSS at checkout.