From Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer: Some Thoughts about Misconduct in the Workplace

Today’s shocking report of Matt Lauer’s misconduct and immediate dismissal from NBC is the latest in a long string of serious accusations against formerly untouchable celebrities.

Have you noticed how scandals often come in waves? This one started less than two months ago with Harvey Weinstein and since then many other distinguished celebrities have been exposed.

It reminds me of the steroids scandal that hit the sports world in the mid-2000’s. It seemed like every time we’d turn on the TV, another beloved star athlete was added to the Hall of Shame.

Even if the offense was decades in the past, suddenly their crime was brought to light and there was zero tolerance. Players lost their jobs, their endorsement deals, and their reputations overnight.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that doping is as serious an offense as sexual misconduct. It certainly isn’t. I only use this example to illustrate how crimes of the past can come to light suddenly in a way that offers no chance for redemption. That’s what we’re seeing again today.

Many of the abuses that have been reported these last few weeks occurred many years ago. But suddenly in the last 2 months all this evil has come to light. And once again, there is zero tolerance for it. Celebrities are losing their jobs and reputations with little to no warning.

Why are all of these accusations suddenly surfacing? Why weren’t they exposed years ago?

Victims are often afraid to report the crimes committed against them, especially when the attacker is a person of power and influence. The victim fears that no one will believe them. They’re afraid that reporting it will only create more problems – perhaps the culprit will retaliate or maybe they’ll get fired for even raising the accusation.

We know that victims of domestic abuse often remain quiet because of debilitating fear and so do those who are sexually assaulted. But when one person stands up and speaks out and then another and another, it gives courage to those who’ve been hiding a dark secret for far too long.

The fear that kept all of these victims silent was alleviated a little more each time someone else spoke up and was taken at their word. As more people spoke up, others were given the courage to share their stories.

What would’ve happened if Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan hadn’t spoken up against Harvey Weinstein in October? It’s likely that this domino effect would never have happened. Dozens and even hundreds of victims might have remained silent.

And although we would feel a little better about our favorite entertainers, their crimes would have gone unpunished and their victims would have seen no justice.

What can we take from this as business people?

I’d like to offer two takeaways.

1. Power can go to a person’s head:

These celebrities felt like they could get away with anything and they did for a long time. Power has a tendency to go to our heads. It can make someone feel superior to others and that often leads to many varieties of abuse.

Hopefully, there aren’t any cases of sexual abuse in your workplace but have Managers been getting away with otherforms of mistreatment? I am not saying that lesser forms of workplace abuse are as severe as sexual assault (they’re certainly not!) but it is helpful to see the parallels that victims of all types face.

Everyone is worthy of equal respect and dignity, whether they’re a temp or the CEO. Being someone’s superior does not mean their direct reports are inferior. But far too many managers get away with various degrees of abuse.

They would never behave like this with the CEO but when dealing with their direct reports they yell, threaten, ignore them, take credit for their work, mock them, sabotage their careers, throw them under the bus, embarrass them in front of their peers, and they get away with it day after day.

An alarmingly high percentage of bosses mistreat their staff and they are that way because power went to their head and they got away with it. They got away with it yesterday, they’re getting away with it today, and unless something changes, they’re going to get away with it tomorrow.

2. Workplace abuse may be more common than we think:

I’m sure that millions of employees were mistreated today by a superior, some more severely than others. Some were unethical, others were illegal but all of these abuses were needless.

And few of today’s victims will say a word about it. Why? They’re afraid no one will believe them. They’re afraid they’ll get fired. And they have reason to be afraid – those threats are real.

The “LinkedIn Mirage”

One of the things I love about LinkedIn is all the content about company culture, employee engagement, and improving the employee experience.

I’m inspired by the work that Kathleeen Hogan, Chief People Officer at Microsoft is doing to improve their company culture. I’m energized by the focus Adobe has taken on improving the Employee and Customer Experience with the help of Donna Morris, EVP, Customer & Employee Experience.

But reading all these LinkedIn stories about companies focused on the Employee Experience (EX) can easily lead us to forget that the majority of the world’s employees don’t have a Chief People Officer advocating for a better work environment.

The average company culture is more toxic than it should be. I’ve witnessed a few degrees of workplace misconduct during my career but what surprises me most is that people usually suffer quietly. They don’t say anything.

The risk is too great. They have a mortgage, car payment, and kids to put through college. They can’t jeopardize their career by standing up for their personal right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Once again, the majority of workplace injustices pale in comparison to sexual misconduct but I’d like to see a greater degree of outrage and zero tolerance applied to all forms of abuse in the workplace.

Will you be one of those dominoes that inspires others to stand up, speak up, and bring about change?

One thought on “From Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer: Some Thoughts about Misconduct in the Workplace

  1. Thanks for recognizing this and talking about it. It happens to males and females. And you are right. Victims have those mortgages and other obligations and cannot affored to risk not having a pay check. I know…I’ve lived it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s