Taking decisive action in the workplace can be difficult for an employer. It is tempting to bury our heads in the sand and hope that the problem will resolve itself.
Roseanne Barr, the American comedian, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week. In case this story has passed you by, Roseanne starred in a popular comedy in USA in the 1990s and a new series has recently been aired by the broadcasting network, ABC.
The new series has only been running a few weeks, but Roseanne has posted her strong views on social media. In particular, sh has made some racist and disturbing comments on Twitter. Her fellow actors on the series were quick to distance themselves from her views and ABC immediately pulled the series off air, to wide approval.
I don’t want to discuss racism or misplaced comedy in the workplace, at least not in this article. I do want to highlight the lessons we can learn from ABC’s decisive action.
Taking Decisive Action
Roseanne is a big star in USA and her series makes serious money for ABC. It would have been easy for them to publicly reprimand Roseanne and allow the series to continue. Their swift action to close down the series will have cost them – at least in the short term – and will potentially have put Roseanne’s colleagues out of a job.
It would also have been easy for ABC to wait for a few days, to see if the furore died down . Roseanne has apologised and claimed her comments were a joke which misfired. There are many in USA who may well agree with Roseanne, or at least will not be unduly upset by her comments. Others think that ABC’s action is a bar to free speech.
But I believe the swift and decisive action to take the series off air was a sensible and appropriate response by ABC. It will not be popular in all quarters, but is likely to have pleased far more people than it upset. The decision shows strength and an encouraging lack of influence by financial considerations.
I am sure the general approval of ABC’s actions will win them friends across the world. I am also sure that the actors who have been affected are likely to get offers of other work fairly quickly, either by ABC or other networks.
What can smaller employers learn from this?
Too often, disruptive people “get away” with bad behaviour because of their usefulness to their employer.
I once had to deal with a complaint that a sales manager was bullying a female staff member. The company were reluctant to take disciplinary action as he was “our best salesman”. There was a fear that he would leave if he was subject to disciplinary action. And he would be difficult to replace. The manager, of course, revelled in his seeming invincibility and his behaviour became gradually worse.
The female staff member left eventually, as did other colleagues with similar complaints. I imagine the cost of replacing those staff was large. The company also had to continually deal with complaints about the manager. They potentially lost revenue as he was unpopular with clients as well as staff.
In the end, the difficult individual left of his own accord, to suit his own timing, showing no loyalty to the company. If they had taken some disciplinary action at an earlier stage, they would have had more control over the situation.
I am not intending any criticism of the employer. They were placed in a very difficult situation and made the best decision they could, for important business reasons. The point I am making is that sometimes the difficult path of decisive action is the better path.
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