Last week I attended the annual conference of the Southern Association of Workers' Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) in Savannah, GA. I was once again honored to moderate the closing panel of the conference, “Things That Make Bob Go, Hmmmmm…” I have been doing these panels for 4 years now. I truly appreciate SAWCA extending this opportunity to me. I get to choose my panel participants and talk about whatever I wish. SAWCA puts no restrictions on me whatsoever.
I know. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it?
This past week my guests were Tammy Boyd from NeuroInternational, Commissioner Robert Swisher from the Kentucky Department of Workers' Claims, Rosalie Farris from OMCA, and Elizabeth Bailey from Waffle House. All of them did a great job, but I want to take a moment today to single out Ms. Bailey, as well as pay tribute to “the waffle life.”
Many regular readers will know that I love to write about the crazy things that happen at Waffle House. A primarily southern institution, the Waffle House is a chain of 24-hour restaurants with more than 1,500 locations in over 21 states (Elizabeth might have said they were in 21 or 24 – as you know I am a terrible note taker). My last full articles on Waffle House were in 2017, where in one I wrote about a fight that broke out between two Waffle House employees. In that article, I wrote:
Waffle House, for reasons unknown to anyone, offers perpetual lessons on crisis, risk management and workers' compensation, routinely producing stories that range from the ridiculous to the bizarre. There was the one about a Waffle House employee calling 911 to report an armed robbery, and who then yelled “April Fools” to responding police officers. There was the time a man drove his truck through a Florida Waffle House, trying to kill his wife who was a server there. Or there was the incident an Augusta, GA, where an air conditioner repairman found a man living on top of the Waffle House he was working on. Or the time a customer in the parking lot of a Tennessee Waffle House got hit by three “dine and dash” teenagers. He got trapped on the hood of their car as they sped off. He managed to dial police while holding on to the hood at speeds up to 60 mph. I wrote a story previously about one of their employees announcing to co-workers that he was about to start pleasuring himself; and then proceeded to do so while the others videotaped him. The last story I covered about Waffle House was about a waitress who got fired for drawing a gun and shooting at people who had just robbed their store. Yes, Waffle House is almost always entertaining.
Given my history of taking liberties with the bizarre stories of Waffle House, I was very pleased that Ms. Bailey agreed to participate on my panel. The truth is I have a great deal of respect for them, as their business model means she has one of the most challenging workers' compensation management models you can find. They are a company that deals with high turnover and low-skillset positions. They are open 24 hours a day and are therefore constantly exposed to the wilder side of life; the strange and bizarre that tends to materialize after midnight, aided and encouraged by copious amounts of alcohol. It turns out that, at Waffle House, they don't run from those stories. They seem to recognize that the Waffle House experience, or as she put it, “dinner and a show,” is part of their culture and story. Managing that challenge while working to keep employees and customers safe is part of what they do.
They are a company that takes pride in employing people; often those that might not otherwise have a chance at gainful employment. And even though the restaurant industry is known for exceedingly high turnover, they have a surprising number of employees with a decade or more of service, meaning they must be doing something right. Ms. Bailey at one point spoke about “those who live the waffle life” understanding the challenges and risks of the world in which they work. For me it was an observation that showed realistic balance in a very challenging environment.
We could probably all learn a little from that. Or a lot.
I am glad she chose to participate in our panel, and I wanted to take a moment to honor the challenges of those who live the waffle life – even though I am likely to still have fun covering future escapades at a yet to be determined Waffle House location. After all, some of those challenges are things that really make me go, “hmmmmmm….”
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.