Do Your Employees Have to Lie to Align with Your Brand?

Read the Room to Cultivate a Work Culture of Integrity

A sign caught my eye on my morning walk today. It was one of those small corrugated plastic yard signs, stuck into the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street in front of a half-empty mini shopping center. The sign said “Now Hiring PIZZA PURISTS” and listed a phone number. It had black lettering on a white background and had been graphically designed with hip-looking fonts, probably adhering to brand-identity guidelines. It did not name the restaurant, presumably to stir up mystery and suspense. My immediate reaction was to bristle and roll my eyes.

The Audible book playing through my earbuds, Martha Beck’s “The Way of Integrity,” had my mind churning even with all the distractions of my 3-mile neighborhood walk. The part I’d heard so far this morning was about recognizing when you’re taking on priorities that aren’t important to you to get ahead in society. Beck had explained the difference between being in integrity with one’s nature versus living by the values of one’s culture. Noticing where you’re lying to yourself and others to look good, be relatable, and receive praise from the culture you’re trying to fit in with. The point was that living in this kind of denial creates suffering and takes an ever-increasing toll.

The sign represents a pet peeve that has riled me throughout almost all of my adult working life. “Pizza Purists?” If you take it literally, it sounds like it’s talking to people obsessed with the art of exquisite pizza making, who have a discriminating palate based on extensive experience with authentic Italian, New York, or Chicago methods and ingredient combinations. But someone like that would be recruited only for an upper-level position and not through a number on a plastic yard sign.

Having worked for over 15 years in the foodservice industry, I’m aware that this sign is trying to hire staff to work in the front and back of the house at a trendy new casual pizza joint that’s getting ready to open. They’re probably going to be able to make about 13–17 bucks an hour after tip share to hustle their butts off with a not quite full-time schedule, that therefore, comes with no benefits.

What does this roadside job ad have to do with living by the values of one’s culture rather than being in integrity with one’s nature?

The sign asks people looking for a restaurant job to pretend that it’s more than a simple way to pay their bills while focusing on something that matters in their life. That “why” may be single parenting, going back to school, another job, starting a business of their own, or pursuing a passion — like music, acting, or stand-up comedy. Whatever drives them, I can guarantee that being a “pizza purist” is not anywhere near the top ten most consequential things in any of these potential job applicants’ lives. But whoever’s running the recruiting campaign asks them to pretend that they are passionate about the purity of pizza, whatever that means. It’s contrived and cynical.

Let’s be honest! Someone genuinely passionate about the purity of pizza would be starting their own “pure” pizza company. These people do not have time to be passionate about that. You would have to pay them a LOT more if you wanted genuine pizza “purists.” Instead, this company is part of a significant trend of companies asking people looking for a basic, decent job to act enthusiastic about an inauthentic mission that denies their humanity.

You may think I’m reading too much into a sign. “It’s just a harmless, catchy way of getting people’s attention,” you might be thinking. Hear me out. “Pizza Purists” is akin to the concept of racist microaggressions we’ve all become versed in this past year. It’s subtle, but it matters because these things add up, and the company can push you further and further away from your best interests if you feel constantly pressured to prove your loyalty to the brand mission.

The company asks applicants to deny the sometimes harsh or dire realities of their lives by acting as if the brand motto is more important. This denial knocks them out of integrity. This demeaning request is not only bad karma but lousy business. People are less effective this way, going through the motions instead of being motivated by their genuine priorities and values.

Whenever I’ve worked (in a non-C-suite role) for such a company, I find myself repeatedly frustrated whenever I do get enthusiastic about the product with any genuine sincerity. The company generally wants me to be an obedient robot saying the right things and jumping through the right hoops, but has no interest in the most valuable things I have to offer: strategic thinking, visionary ideas, wise perspective, and insight from previous experience.

What if, instead, companies advertised what people who seek entry-level jobs need and want? A great message could go something like: “If you make it your priority to work as part of a team to serve up an excellent pizza experience for our guests while you’re at work, we’ll try to be the kind of job that supports you in moving forward in your life in the ways that matter to you.” Companies have to back up a message like this with benefits designed to provide the support those employees need and want. That way, the new hires could bring their whole, empowered self to work in integrity, self-respect intact because they’ve made a deal with a company that respects them.

Employees would do a better job, have better attendance, provide a better product or service, produce more happy customers, and stay longer. These results would be worth the cost of the supportive programs (and higher pay.) I’m sure there are plenty of examples of companies succeeding using a policy of truth like this.

As we build our new world, let us prioritize being in integrity with our true nature and cultivating circumstances that allow others to do the same.

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