MacDonald’s teeth and the limbic lag: Rewiring an employee’s brain

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

The limbic lag
Have you ever gone looking for a teaspoon or a Tupperware and wondered why on earth you looked in that cupboard or that drawer? Then you remembered, that was where you kept them 10 years ago before you remodelled your kitchen. Welcome to the limbic lag.

The limbic system of your brain remembers and takes care of routine and automatic responses (like walking and driving). Sometimes, however, it lags behind. You moved the teaspoons, but it is still working on auto, taking you to the old place.

I think that is what happened in the MacDonald’s Chatterton branch on 5 December 2020.

Teeth in MacDonald’s
An employee needed to open a packet of milkshake flavouring, was in a hurry, didn’t have anything to hand and … yes, you guessed it, used her teeth.

Apart from normal hygiene, Covid-19 requires extra vigilance all the time.

I am in no way excusing this employee’s behaviour, but as managers we must realise we are not just teaching our employees what to do, we are up against their limbics as well.

Rewiring the brain
Touching face and nose is so much part of our life, it doesn’t go away because someone told us once or twice not to, even if we believe the science and are committed to staying safe — try telling your limbic system.

Posters on the wall help, but we must use multiple ways to keep drumming in the message. Help the brain visualise the various scenarios by describing them. What does being hygienic mean in a MacDonald’s franchise or in your office or shop?

Focus on a different scenario every week. You will not get through them all, but the constant emphasis starts to rewire the brain, and we begin to think up other scenarios ourselves.

Any limbic-lag experiences?

How have you tried to ‘rewire’ your employees’ brains?


Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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