In the midst of this holiday season, you’d think that the workplace becomes more relaxed and jovial. And, in this pseudo-post-pandemic era, you’d think that the idea of gathering again in person to celebrate together at the annual holiday party would be welcomed with open arms.
In fact, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. It’s not just the year-end push that adds pressure to a workforce that’s already road-weary after putting in another year behind the desk or bench or wherever the work is done. And let’s not dilute the impact of the December factor when it comes to finalizing deals, meeting quotas, and so on. These metrics create added pressure for everyone at this time of year.
Here’s where the holidays, Monday morning Quarterbacking, a toxic work culture, and technology intersect. It’s almost like that joke, A, B, and C walk into a bar … except that it’s no joke. Corporate cultures that are toxic are even more challenging to navigate during the holidays. But don’t despair: two key takeaways are that technology can be leveraged to manage the toxicity (and non-compliance) and it’s never too late to change the culture.
What you may underestimate is how much pressure your co-worker is facing in their own home at this time of year. They may be experiencing financial difficulties which are exacerbated by the holiday season’s pre-requisite gift-buying, and that may be causing added stress on their personal relationships. Of course, the idea of spending time with in-laws like the dreaded uncle or over-bearing mother-in-law can instill fear in the heart of the most chilled people on the planet. Your colleague may be disputing with their spouse over what to buy (or not to buy) for their children who are typically amped up at this time of year in anticipation of Santa Clause visiting them on Christmas Eve. All that combined creates a pressure cooker situation that may be triggered to explode at any time.
If you know what to look for, you’ll likely see signs; of slight changes in behavior that are escalating towards the potential of an explosive event. Technology can detect unusual patterns such as working at odd hours outside the standard practice for the corporate culture, email and text exchanges that are more frequent, abrupt, and may include abrasive languages such as derogatory or defamatory words and cursing. If these signs appear once, it’s random. Twice is a coincidence. But three or more times suggests that a new pattern is developing, and intervention is both necessary and advised to halt further escalation.
Sure, technology can be the watchdog but controlling a toxic corporate culture is everybody’s job. Monday morning quarterbacking about what happened last week and what you should have done but did not do won’t change anything. Problems need to be surfaced through formal channels and addressed. However, you need to have an HR or Compliance department that offers a safe space to voice concerns with processes in place to investigate and act upon your concerns.
On the topic of quarterbacking, the NFL, and the Washington Football Team (formerly the Redskins – which is a whole other topic around cultural appropriation and racism) have recently been exposed for their toxic work culture. The troubling part is that it’s been ongoing for nearly a decade and there was no investigation until earlier this year. Suppressing complaints from staff, upholding a toxic culture, and embracing inaction were par for the course. Given how long it took the Washington Football Team (WFT) to change their name – despite pressure from their fans and the rest of the world to do so – it’s not surprising that it took nearly ten years to publicly conclude that the WFT culture was toxic and violated the standards of the NFL.
It all began with a formal complaint submitted to the league earlier this year describing non-compliant behavior within the WFT as “rampant sexual harassment, a culture of verbal abuse, and surreptitious recording of female employees undressing.” That letter spurred an analysis of over 650,000 emails and 150 interviews by attorney Beth Wilkinson. On July 1, 2021, the NFL concluded that “the workplace environment was highly unprofessional,” that “senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct” and that bullying “and intimidation frequently took place.” During the investigation, emails were exchanged between the Las Vegas Raiders head coach, Jon Gruden, who was also tenured as a reporter at ESPN at the time some of those emails were exchanged, and Bruce Allen, the General Manager of the WFT also surfaced. And those emails were shocking.
The $10 million fine levied at the conclusion of that analysis was arguably light, and the resignation of Gruden, who repeatedly sent offensive emails to Allen, doesn’t hit the mark. Especially when you consider the “swift and strong rebuke” by the NFL who referenced one email from Gruden to Allen in 2011 as, “appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s value.” And yes, there is likely a digital copy of everything you’ve ever written stored somewhere – it’s just a matter of access.
Racist and homophobic emails from Gruden, an outsider to the WFT, were indeed horrendous and inappropriate. Repeating his words in print, which many journalists and editors have recently done, is a questionable practice: Gruden’s vitriol shouldn’t get any more airtime than it already has. But emails from an outsider weren’t the WFT’s only problem signaling a toxic workplace.
Claims that the WFT’s misogynistic culture have been well-documented. Female staff repeatedly complained about inappropriate comments from male colleagues about their hair and outfits. The comments were defended as a “rite of passage” and heralded as a badge of honor. Female referees were openly mocked, film editors were reportedly asked to create titillating “VIP versions” of cheerleader film footage, and photos of topless women were circulated. Former employees described the culture as one of fear where sexual harassment, objectification, and a general lack of respect were commonplace.
Here’s where things get murky. The NFL is highly visible. What they do and how they act matter. A lack of transparency despite documented evidence of bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and racism is deeply troubling. Misconduct is misconduct – it can not and should not be defended as “part of the culture.” Attorney Wilkinson briefed the NFL verbally on the findings of her investigation: no written report was submitted. To date, the NFL has declined to comment if Gruden will be disciplined.
Hypocrisy fuels toxicity: technology can’t address that. The football franchise has over 70% of its athletes who identify themselves as persons of color: 58% are Black yet there are only five Black General Managers, zero Black team owners, only three of the 32 head coach positions are held by Blacks, and eight women are assistant coaches. Ironically, it was the Raiders, back in 1989, who hired the league’s first black coach.
Bringing it all home, non-compliance should not be tolerated. Period. Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t going to change your corporate culture. Yes, technology can help via monitoring, but people are still the best defense. If you see something, say something. And buckle up because it’s the holidays … look for warning signs and shifting behaviors.