What Makes a Person Clean Drinking Glasses with Pledge? A Bad System
“A bad system, will defeat a good person, every time.” — W. Edwards Deming
Would you polish drinking glasses at home with the furniture cleaner Lemon Pledge? Of course not – it's got to be poisonous or at least harmful. Would you use Lemon Pledge to polish the glasses if you were a hotel housekeeper? No?
So what would make somebody do that?
The tell-all book about the hotel industry, Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, has a story about this supposedly happening. Per the NY Times review:
Don't ever drink from hotel glasses: they might very well have been rinsed with hot water, wiped with a dirty hand towel and polished with Lemon Pledge.
From the book:
‘To be absolutely sure they won't be singled out for spotty glasses, [housekeepers] might spray furniture polish all over them,” Tomsky writes. ”So the next time you put a little tap water into the minibar glass and wonder to yourself why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, that's because you just took a shot of Pledge.”
Ah… it seems like our old friend “management by fear” is rearing it's ugly (yet common) head again.
For fear of being yelled at by the bosses…
Instead of asking why glasses are spotty, a bad boss will just yell at the housekeepers.
Why are they spotty? It could be the hotel is too cheap to run the glasses through a dishwasher, considering the time and effort and soap that would be required. Maybe the housekeepers don't have the right equipment or cleaners to properly clean (and sterilize??) a glass there in the room. Maybe they don't have enough time to do quality work, if they are given a quota how many rooms they must clean per hour.
When people are under extreme pressure or working in an environment of fear, they'll do all sorts of awful things. The system drove them to do it.
The same thing might happen in hospitals if housekeeping staff is given just five minutes to clean an operating room. That's not long enough to do a proper “terminal clean.” Why do corners get cut? Lack of time. Fear of being yelled at. Infections are higher. Healthcare costs are higher. Patient suffering and mortality is higher. But, we didn't get yelled at.
I'm not blaming the workers.
As Deming taught, quality starts at the top (in the boardroom). Management owns the system. Or, they work in a system that's created by their boards (or shareholders in a public company).
Would you save a few bucks at home by serving horse meat to your guests while calling it beef? No? Some European food companies have done exactly that – and it's the system's fault… I agree with John Seddon on this one.
The culpable should reflect on their responsibility for breaking their psychological contract with their customers and understand that its roots are in their obsession with managing cost downwards. They and our political leaders should reflect on why this scandal should occur in an already heavily regulated sector.
You can't blame individuals for reacting to a tyranny of fear-based management and short-term performance measures.
Washing down that horse meat lasagna from room service with that lemon-flavored water from the tap???