What to do When Poor Workplace Culture Emanates from the Top


Horrible bosses

One of the headlines dominating recent news is the revelation of numerous allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

As the stories continue to roll out about the ever-widening scandal, the picture is becoming clearer: many people knew about the disastrous workplace culture at Weinstein’s company and its impact not just on employees, but on others throughout the industry.

Aside from what Weinstein is accused of doing in private, there are plenty of stories of how he treated people publicly. He’s not the first, of course, to be noted as a notorious boss (a quick Google search offers a list of names that fit that description). Hollywood itself has taken on the topic through movie examples: 9 to 5, The Devil Wears Prada and aptly named Horrible Bosses (and its sequel) – and the fantasies of getting back at those bad bosses.

While everyday employees aren’t about to kidnap their boss and teach them a lesson in humility, as the fed-up employees did in 9 to 5, what can companies and employees do when the boss is the problem?

Michelle Kavanaugh, Indiana Chamber director of human resources, offers a few insights on this topic. First, companies should have a very strong harassment policy in place and a clearly structured reporting system, she offers.

“Some companies have anonymous call lines, which work better for larger organizations to keep callers truly anonymous,” she says.

Other steps to take include: having a zero-tolerance harassment policy, working with company leaders on the issues so that the culture is set at the top and making sure enforcement happens from the top down. Another protection is working with legal counsel to come up with an action plan before something happens.

And for employees who are dealing with harassment, the first step to take is to directly point out the behavior as inappropriate and request that the behavior stop.

“Use consideration, state your position and make your request,” Kavanaugh notes. “There is probably an intimidation factor. You have to work through that and state your concerns. Using ‘I’ statements are also psychologically a good way to approach the subject.

“If the behavior continues, and it is the business owner or person at the top, find someone else within your organization that you trust and hopefully the organization has a policy in place to deal with the behavior.”

If that doesn’t help, finding a confidant outside your workplace to assist you is another avenue. Should more extreme measures become necessary, avenues to consider include retaining legal help or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Labor.

“This is just scratching the surface of this subject. Employers working closely with good legal counsel can protect the company and employees and help instill a culture where toxic environments and abuse are not the norm,” Kavanaugh adds.

We also offer the Indiana Guide to Preventing Workplace Harassmentnow in its fourth edition. Written by a team of experts from Indiana-based law firm Ogletree Deakins, the guide is a simple and comprehensive manual covering topics employers need to know to identify, deal with and prevent workplace harassment and discrimination.

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