HR lessons from McDonald’s bullying and harassment scandal - HR Services | Audax HR Services

HR lessons from McDonald’s bullying and harassment scandal

HR lessons from McDonald’s bullying and harassment scandal

With the recent news of McDonald’s bullying and harassment culture, it’s a worthwhile exercise for HR leaders and people professionals to consider how they would confront the problem. So, let’s imagine landing that dream HR job within a large organisation, only to find that all is not as it seems. The public image of the company is that it is successful: top of its league in earnings, product recognition and reputation. Except, the latter is an illusion. The market clout is certainly there but you gradually realise that you have not joined a happy ship. There is nothing outwardly that immediately informs you of this. There is no record of cultural toxicity at all. The figures are good. But figures can mask.

What should HR do when unearthing toxic behaviour?

Through an open approach to employees, you start to find that problems have been swept under the carpet. There are no substantive grievances about the behaviour of staff towards each other as nobody dares say anything. An intimidating culture with its equivalent of the mafia code of omerta (keeping silent) is insidious and wrong. The key question is how can you change it? After all, you have secured this key role to do this very thing. Removing the fear factor is key. This means constant vigilance, listening and proper sanctions when perpetrators are unearthed.

Find senior allyship

Self-belief that you will see the required change through is the essential starting point. But this is not something that you can do alone. You need allies. The first place to look for them is within the senior executive team. They need to know that change is required, and not just for good PR. If they do not totally buy into cultural change, for the simple reason that what has gone on before is plain wrong, the correct decisions will not be taken. While stamping out a culture of bullying cannot simply be a top-down exercise the senior executive buy-in is required because, inevitably, the campaign for change will cost and could see key people being dismissed because of their behaviour. They may be key to financial success, but predators cannot be tolerated or enabled.

Remove the fear of standing up to predators

Enabling comes in two forms, with conscious and unconscious actions. Yes, some people do choose to ignore what is plainly in front of them. The good thing is that they know that something is wrong, so you have a starting point to address. The downside is the unfortunate tendency to let others act with impunity. Why do that? Usually because there is a fear of the consequences that may arise as a result of taking a stance. When the lid has been lifted on the toxic environment there will not be an immediate turnaround. Removing the fear factor is key. This means constant vigilance, listening and proper sanctions when perpetrators are unearthed. No matter how important someone may seem to an organisation, if they create a culture of fear while intimidating others, they are not worth it. The organisation must be prepared to let bad actors go. The messaging can be done in advance of the root and branch review. It is needed to reduce the fear factor of the victims and witnesses, who have hitherto been reluctant to come forward.

How to tackle unconscious toxic actions

When we come to the unconscious actions the battle is more difficult. Training is required so staff can recognise where their received position needs re-examination. This is not brainwashing or indoctrination. It is a process of awareness. None of us are the font of all knowledge. We learn by sharing experiences. This should be a transparent process that leads to a greater understanding of others. Policies and codes of conduct have their part to play in setting out what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. As with any set of rules they must be clearly communicated so that all know what the boundaries are. The best policy documents in the world are still useless if they are not at the centre of the way people are expected to work. There is no point designing standards without implementing them. The awareness training has to be backed up by action and enforcement.

There are no quick wins with culture change – reiteration is key

When the lid has been lifted on the toxic environment there will not be an immediate turnaround. Expectations have to be managed. However, such management involves the consistent reiteration of the goals the organisation is seeking to achieve. Individuals will dwell upon the past as that is only natural. The turnaround will take place because there is confidence in the future that things will improve. This will not be automatic. Workers will need to see results. Those who seek to harass and abuse others do, at some point, fear what will happen if they are revealed for who they really are. They transfer that fear into others, maliciously working on arguments that build on the vulnerabilities of their victim. Victims have to know they will be believed.

A successful programme changes the balance of power from perpetrator to victim

Any victim will need to know they are part of a supportive work apparatus that will afford them protection should it be needed. The tolerance for unwanted behaviour has to be low. Victims have to know they will be believed. It takes time to get to this point but if senior management shows that it is fully invested in change, that is a tremendous catalyst to making that change happen. Through training, the vast majority will be invested in a new way of thinking, confident that they will be respected and protected. Where no quarter is given to a perpetrator they will not thrive. They cannot pray on fear because it has been replaced by empowerment. No matter the motivation, intimidation, bullying, discrimination or abuse can be defeated by collective and concerted action. It takes work but all good things do. Interested in this topic? Read Jimmy Fallon: What to do with superstar employees who are toxic [spark:newsletter-signup]

This content was originally published here.


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