Hello, everyone and welcome back to the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast today we are doing another segment of "Misconduct in the News" and today we will be talking about the Ellen Degeneres show. I mean, how can we have a Misconduct in the News segment and not talk about what's going on there? Before we get started, one of the, if you're enjoying this podcast, if you are finding it informative or entertaining, please subscribe and share with your friends and co-workers.
Okay, so, article by Buzzfeed News July 16th, 2020 is kind of when this broke open and there are a lot of, basically there were allegations that working on the Ellen show, it was a toxic work environment. Okay, so if you are in HR or you are the investigator, what does that even mean? What does toxic work environment mean? It's kind of one of those things where we know it when we are part of it.
I've been a part of a toxic working environment. I've suffered from being in a toxic work environment. In fact, it got to the point where my wife wanted me to change jobs because it can impact your health, it can impact your sleep, it can impact your fulfillment at work. It really can impact if you're-if work is that bad, it can cause a lot of problems. So it is a big deal. You don't want a toxic work environment. But then how do you define it and how do you fix it? That's where it becomes a little more difficult.
In my situation, a few of us-it was-the toxicity was created by our immediate supervisor: the way he treated people, the way he talked, the way his expectations-the way he managed our cases. It was bad to the point where we would drive up in the parking lot in the morning and we would try to get there early before he arrived so we could have at least a few minutes of peace before he showed up. So a few of us went to his supervisor to say, hey this is bad. This needs to be fixed, and file the complaint. And they, unfortunately they-their response was not a good one. But I understand it. The response was, show me policy violations. What has he done that's either criminal or against our policy? And then we can do something. Otherwise, you know the fact that he's being mean isn't, it's not something that we can do, that we can handle or deal with or fix. He is who he is, right? I'm not going to send him to some sort of "be nice" training.
So essentially they did nothing, which then made it worse because we knew that we were going through this. Our chain of command knew about it and weren't willing to do anything about it.
And it's very difficult when the person creating the toxic environment is the one who's in charge. So then who do you go to? How do you fix it? How do you complain? You just either have to deal with it or you quit; and you know quitting is not a great answer because number one you- do you have another job to follow up with? And maybe you love your job and you're good at it and you deserve to be there. You're the person the company needs, but they're driving you away because of this environment.
So just defining toxic work environment is a difficult thing to do. We know it when we see it or we know it when we feel it, but how do you define it? So that's one of the problems that I've had in analyzing the articles on this case. Was there actual misconduct happening or was there just personnel that needed to be changed or trained? Or like, what is the issue?
So the-some of the misconduct alleged was racism. All right, that's something that we can actually deal with. Is there evidence of racism? And that's something that-there is some subjectivity because one person can feel like a certain behavior, a comment, is racist and someone else not. So you have to look at your policy. This is where it is so important that the behaviors, the unacceptable behaviors are articulated and defined well in your policy. How do you as a company define racism? It's not because one employee says something is racist. It's how do you define it? How are you going to take action when there's an allegation of racism?
So in the Buzzfeed article it said most of the former employees blamed executive producers and other senior managers for the day-to-day toxicity, so not necessarily Ellen, but one former employee said that ultimately it's Ellen's name on the show and she really needs to take more responsibility for the workplace environment. If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title she needs to be more involved, to see what's going on.
Okay, I think that's fair. I think people would agree that the person in charge should know, but they're only going to know if it's brought to their attention. So then you have to look at, did she actually know was she part of the problem? Was-or was this happening behind her back and she had no knowledge of it?
So one of the allegations was racism but, and Buzzfeed talked to a woman who made those allegations and she said that whenever she started to speak up against the discrimination or about the discrimination that was occurring, the racist discrimination, her colleagues distanced themselves from her and her boss didn't do anything; basically swept it under the rug or made excuses for it. So that's where we can start looking at violating the policy. That's where we can start looking at misconduct, something we can actually take action on because it wasn't even investigated.
She's making an allegation and it wasn't even investigated. It was basically just excused and thrown away and said this is not a valid complaint. So now we have something to look at. So the-when this all came out, Warner Brothers said, okay we're going to investigate. So they started in what they called an internal review. And so this is from a USA Today article published on July 30th where they said that the internal review or investigation would be conducted by the parent company, Warner Media and they were going to be investigating racism, intimidation, and toxic work culture.
Okay, I talked about that, how toxic is difficult. Racism is something that we can, from a misconduct standpoint. Obviously it's, you know, the toxicity is something that you can work on and fix, and it's part of your culture and it's something that you can, you should deal with. But specifically speaking about misconduct it might be a little more difficult. You need specific incidents. And that was what my bosses said when I brought that, when we brought that to their attention was, we need specific examples. And we gave as much as we could but they weren't like policy issues. They weren't policy violations.
So Warner Brothers issued a statement regarding their investigation. So they completed their investigation and they issued a statement. They said quote, "The Ellen Degeneres show is and always has strived to be a place that brings positivity to the world. And though not all of the allegations were corroborated, we are disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation indicated some deficiencies related to the show's day-to-day management." Okay, they went on, "We have identified several staffing changes along with appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised and are taking the first steps to implement them." So they essentially said, we investigated, some of the allegations were confirmed (there was a positive finding), others were not. But there was a problem so we're going to deal with the ones that were and we're going to try to fix the culture because we did find a culture issue. So that's great and hopefully that they will find solutions that work.
So Ellen wrote a letter to her people, an apology letter, and she acknowledged her responsibility to the show that bears her name and she said, "As we've grown exponentially, I have not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done. Clearly some didn't. That will now change and I am committed to ensuring this does not happen again." So this is kind of the "apology light" we could call it, basically saying, hey it's not my fault. They did it. I hired these people. I gave them expectations. They didn't follow them. They didn't do what I would expect them to do. It's not my fault, but okay let's fix it. And now I have to be a micromanager. That's kind of what that felt like. So she's claiming she didn't know this stuff was going on.
So there were, there were a lot of tweets about this. There was even a comedian that, that went online and said you know share a story, provide, like asked for or promoted a cash reward for providing the best story about Ellen being mean. And people cited examples of when Ellen was mean to them. And that was kind of the problem that I see in the news stories is there's just a lot of: she's mean, she didn't respect me, or she didn't give me, she didn't talk to me, she didn't give me the time of day. Well, none of that it's misconduct; none of that is. That's someone being offended because a person didn't meet their expectations of giving them time. Like, we have one guest who complained that other guests got their own bathroom and she didn't. Okay, not saying that that was the right thing to do. That's not misconduct.
So there's all these tweets: tweets in support of Ellen, tweets against Ellen. So this is from an article from The Insider and it is dated, well it's dated four hours ago from when I printed it, so the 5th of August, 2020.
Here's the issue. Now speaking to investigators, whether you're in HR or an independent investigator, and this battle has been raged on Twitter or in social media. Tweets of allegations are not evidence. If the allegation is about a tweet, like the content of a tweet, okay then that tweet is evidence. But this is what I mean. If someone comes on Twitter and says, "Ellen was mean to me," or "I had a bad experience at the Ellen show because of [this-that]." That's a lead. That's not evidence.
What that means is you need to contact that person as the investigator and say hey, I saw your tweet. I'm concerned about what you said. It fits into our investigation. Can we-can we talk? I'd like to take a statement from you about what happened. And because of the nature of social media and the ease of posting whatever you want, what I found is a lot of times there is no substance behind the tweet. They don't want to give a statement because there's nothing actually there when the, when you finally kind of say okay you're making this allegation, now let's talk about it. Suddenly the allegation goes away. So you can't just take this list in this article, there's like this whole list of tweets and they're just publishing facts, things that people said, and that's great.
But if you're the investigator, that's different. You need to dive into it because you're trying to determine if the information asserted in these tweets is corroborated or not, if it's true or not. That's what you're doing. You're not just taking it at face value. So that's kind of just a pro tip if you are involved in an investigation like this and there's-there's been like a social media battle, or things have been hashed out on social media.
So there were a lot of tweets and a lot of people who said Ellen is controlling. She-she's mean. She doesn't talk to people. She doesn't give people the time of day. Um, where she's gone on other shows and then the people were told you don't talk to her, you don't approach her. You know, she's "Ellen." Okay, that's not good behavior. It's not something that you-that's not a reputation you would want, but it's not misconduct. And that's the problem here in the investigation and that's why the-their response when they came out they said basically some stuff wasn't corroborated, some stuff was. Because being a meanie pants just makes you a meanie pants. It doesn't mean that you're engaged in misconduct.
And maybe, if you know, if this is happening in your company and you have a manager who is being mean, who maybe you want to get rid of them, or reassign, or provide extra training because that's not conducive to productivity, to a good work environment. And you want a good culture and work environment. But you can't equate that with misconduct necessarily.
Ellen is known for the mantra, "be kind," and that's kind of one of the main complaints is that she gets on the air, she tells the public, she shows this image of being kind to everyone, and just simply be kind, yet behind the scenes (and this is in the Buzzfeed article) they definitely don't practice what they preach with the "be kind" mantra. They were more concerned about Ellen's brand instead of helping me out. This is coming from an employee. So it's difficult to make a decision, uh about whether or not there was misconduct just from looking at these articles.
But it was clear, it is clear that a lot of employees were unhappy and that's a problem in and of itself. That's a culture issue that you need to fix, because if employees are unhappy, we know they are less productive. They do less. They don't do as good of work and there is a lot of turnover.
So this is kind of an interesting one. We don't have, kind of, clear allegations of, you know, specific behaviors. There's a few, but not a whole lot; and kind of the attitude that they had at the show was (this from Buzzfeed) "This is Ellen. This is as good as it gets. You'll never find anything better than this." So in other words, we can do whatever we want and you're lucky to be here. And that's not a good attitude to have if you want to attract the best talent.
One of the big issues and red flags that did come up though and that hopefully they fixed, this is one employee who said, "I never felt like it was safe to go to my manager when I had issues because this was the same person who would wait for me to go to the bathroom and then message me asking me where I was and why I wasn't at my desk." So it's possible that there was more stuff going on and they didn't know about it because no one felt like they could safely make an allegation. No one felt like their allegations were going to be taken seriously.
We've got this example; we have the example of the allegations of racism that both kind of show that if you're not taken seriously when you come to them with a complaint, they're going to stop coming to you with complaints. All right, so that is an issue. That is something that you should take away. We always complete this segment with takeaways and that's a takeaway that you should have with this segment is that you need to create an environment where people feel safe coming to you with complaints. They need to know that you have this policy, that you-your values matter to you enough that you will do something about it.
Ellen talks about being kind and having these values of being inclusive and friendly and helpful and yet people didn't feel like that was true because that's not their experience. That's not what they saw. And really the only thing, you know, they talked about how Ellen should take more responsibility and and one of the only examples of her knowing that this was happening and not doing anything about it (from The Insider article) Glavin was one of the executives and one of the executives they said was the problem. It said "Glavin screamed at one member of staff in front of everybody else. 'He just went off on them. His whole face turned red...We were stunned. I was waiting for Ellen to say something. 'Whoa, Ed, don't talk like that'...'Do you know what she did? She giggled. She crossed her legs up on the chair and she said, 'Well, I guess every production needs their dog.' And from then we knew Ed was going to be the barking dog-her dog.'"
So when you have the head of the organization, Ellen from the Ellen Show, so in your organization it could be your president or CEO, who or whoever it is. They saw this senior executive behave badly and did nothing to stop it or correct it and in fact laughed about it; that communicated to the rest of the team that that was acceptable behavior and that she wasn't going to stop it. The way that you handle allegations, the way that you handle misconduct or misbehavior communicates to your organization, your community, from the top all the way down, your actual values: how you are going to treat people, how you're going to handle situations, and if you're going to take allegations seriously.
That one incident probably shut a lot of people down from coming with allegations or problems. So that's the takeaway. How you handle allegations even if they're small now matters because it will influence whether people come to you for help in the future. And if they don't come to you, you don't know about it. If you don't know about it, you can't fix it. You can't do anything about it.
So this is kind of an interesting case. We'll see if things get better. They promise, you know they're promising they will. Ellen has committed to making things better. Hopefully they do. I only wish for success for the companies I talk about, but this is kind of a difficult case because there's kind of a lot of gray area on whether it's misconduct or not, and what to do about it. But it looks like even if they're things that weren't misconduct, there were things that could change and be changed as far as their culture and how they treat people.
So thanks for listening or watching, whatever medium you're on. Remember to subscribe and I will see you next time on the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast.