Apology, Take Two

We don’t often get a chance to see a weak apology improved by a second one, but the CEO of Kyte Baby offered just that recently. Kyte Baby is a Texas-based company known for its baby apparel. A new Kyte Baby employee named Marissa Hughes adopted a baby who was born prematurely last month. Hughes asked to work remotely while staying with her baby in the NICU, but the company determined that was not feasible given her duties, and terminated her. Apparently Marissa Hughes’s sister posted this news on Tik-Tok, prompting a backlash from people who saw this action as inconsistent with a company that promotes parenting.

So the CEO of Kyte Baby, Ying Liu, posted an apology to Hughes last Friday in a TikTok video. Liu apologized for how her parental leave was communicated and handled, noting that Kyte Baby “prides itself in being a family-oriented company.” Liu said, “It was my oversight that she didn’t feel supported,” and that she would be reviewing the company’s HR policies to “avoid hurting our staff and community in the future.” This was apparently a public apology that was viewed – and critiqued – by others on social media. They complained that the apology appeared disingenuous and canned.

A few hours later, Ms. Liu posted a second apology on TikTok, acknowledging that the first video was scripted and that she now wanted to go “off script.” In the second apology, she said, “I was the one who made that decision to veto her request to go remote…. This was a terrible decision. I was insensitive and selfish … I cannot imagine the stress that she had to go through, not having the option to go back to work and having to deal with a newborn in the NICU. I fully realize the impact of my decision in this. Thinking back, it was a terrible mistake.”

In effect, she apologized for her apology.

Because we have video of both apologies, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see what makes a good apology, and what doesn’t. It’s not the words alone. I think Ms. Liu might have gotten away with her first apology if she had said it like she meant it; but it did indeed appear that she was reading a script. One wonders if she consulted with anyone before posting the first video; if she had run it by a trusted colleague, would they have recognized and informed her how insincere it sounded? I also know from experience that scripted apologies can work — if the recipient is prepared for it and understands why it needs to be read by the offender. Those conditions never hold for public apologies, so it’s a real challenge to pull off a scripted public apology well.

Even the second apology was not enough for the employee, Marissa Hughes. She posted on Facebook that she would not be returning to the company, although she was encouraged to hear that it would make changes for current and future employees. And customers are now encouraging a boycott of Kyte Baby, proving that even a good apology cannot always fix things.