Public beheadings and laughable leaders; damaging dismissals in the press

15 August 2013

We have seen some embarrassing leader behaviour so far this month; the Opposition Leader’s recent verbal hiccups being an obvious example. Elsewhere in the media an internet giant’s Chief Executive has come under fire for the somewhat harsh dismissal of an employee in front of approximately 1000 colleagues.

The BBC published an article this week entitled Seven brutal dismissals that made headlines which included the executive’s actions. Whilst on a conference call the CEO became frustrated with the Creative Director who was taking photographs of him at the time. He reportedly told the employee “put that camera down” before snapping “you’re fired, get out.”

Employees involved in the call were understandably stunned and the CEO’s explanation issued after the fact did little to help. The CEO said that the dismissal was due to leaks to the press that he held the employee responsible for, saying “We can’t have people that are in the locker room giving the game plan away.”

Although this type of sporting analogy is commonplace, it is important for leaders to remember that ‘old school’ or ‘harsh’ attitudes and management methods can leave leaders looking at best unprofessional and at worst, tyrannical.

When a leader’s behaviour makes headline news, it is not surprising for the public to question the culture that exists in a company where such behaviour takes place. That said, brand image is not the only thing to suffer where a poor organisational culture exists.

When a major banking group ousted its Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer last year an employee group was quickly convened by remaining senior executives in order to prevent a mass migration of team members. As reported in the New York Times, one of the main questions from employees was; “why remain at a bank that treated its top executives so harshly?”

The board’s dismissal was seen by employees as particularly harsh given a positive earnings report and strong indications that the banking group’s fortunes were improving.

iHR Australia Workplace Training EEO Anti-Bullying Contact Officer Workplace Investigation Officer Melbourne Sydney Canberra Perth Brisbane Adelaide

To avoid an image tarnished with suggestions of unfair treatment or bullying behaviour, employers need to get serious about culture. Workplace culture can affect performance as well as brand and retention so addressing it should not be seen as a “nice to have” for employers.

Starting with robust policies and workplace bullying training for all team members and leaders will help employers to prevent incidents occurring but also to show their teams that culture is important within the organisation. Should a claim of bullying or harassment be made, showing what activities have been undertaken by the business to prevent and address behavioural issues, such as workplace bullying training, will help to discharge vicarious liability and to protect the organisation’s reputation.

It is important to remember that complaints of inappropriate behaviour can be costly to an organisation and these can arise more often where a poor workplace culture is identified. Even where a complaint is not upheld, underlying cultural issues may have led to a complaint being made and can contribute to dissatisfaction and tensions that affect productivity. For this reason, where employers feel that team culture is poor, conducting a workplace inquiry can help to identify issues. 

The results of iHR Australia’s recent online 2 minute quiz revealed 37 percent of respondents failed the behaviour test, showing just how important effective workplace bullying training could be for all organisations.

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