Toxic workplaces

June 20th, 2018

A recent interview with several members of the cast of the Netflix sitcom Arrested Development grew tense as it dredged up past workplace tensions caused by the behavior of one of the cast members. Scenes like this have been commonplace in recent months, especially in arenas in the public eye such as politics, media and entertainment. Behavior that had been tolerated in the past is now frequently being called out as the cause of a toxic workplace environment.

When the Arrested Development cast gathered recently for an interview with The New York Times, they intended to discuss the upcoming release of the show’s fifth season. The show, which premiered on Fox in 2003 to critical acclaim, is about the wacky Bluth family and their “riches to rags” saga. After lasting three seasons on Fox, Netflix resurrected the show in 2013 along with its cast.

The Times interview, published online on May 23, was a roundtable with five cast members: Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor, Alia Shawkat, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman. During the conversation, the interviewer raised a question about “the elephant in the room,” recent allegations of sexual harassment against Tambor and his subsequent dismissal from the Amazon show Transparent. Tambor accepted that he has a propensity to blow up at people, though he denied the sexual harassment allegations. While his cast members have been largely supportive, this particular interview took a tense turn as they began to discuss his behavior on their own set. In particular, all appeared to recall an incident in which he directed his anger toward Walter, a 60-year veteran in the entertainment industry.

In their recollection of the incident, Bateman seemed to minimize it, saying, “In the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult.’ ” He went on to say that for some people, it’s simply part of their process of preparing for their work. Shawkat, one of the youngest members of the cast, said, “But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.”

Walter added, “But it’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.” When all was said and done, however, Walter said she needed to let go of the anger she harbored over the incident. In addition, she said she would absolutely be willing to continue to work with Tambor.

The day after the interview’s release, and after a thorough scourging on social media, Bateman issued a public apology for unintentionally defending Tambor’s behavior and minimizing Walter’s feelings. He also expressed horror for not recognizing how the incident had impacted her.

Our workplaces

If we were to experience a toxic workplace, it would likely not end up in The New York Times. Yet such an experience can drain our energy; create stress that impacts us physically, mentally and spiritually; and cause us to peruse the job ads more frequently than before. On the flip side, a healthy workplace can energize us, enhancing the rest of our lives as well.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is — what is good and pleasing and mature” (Romans 12:2). We have at our disposal God’s Spirit, who can transform our circumstances, including the environment where we work. Whether we’re the boss or on the lowest rung of the hierarchy, we can make a difference in at least our small corner of the office. There are times, however, when a situation may be so toxic or such an ill fit that we must shake the dust from our feet and depart.

Ten Commandments?

In seeking to understand what makes for a better way and a healthier workplace, I wondered if there were a “ten commandments for work.” Apparently, it wasn’t a particularly original thought, as I discovered that a number of other bloggers, writers and consultants have had this bright idea before.

Linnda Durré, a contributor on the job website, wrote “10 Signs of a Positive Workplace.” One of her most important signs is a relaxed and a productive atmosphere in which people “feel appreciated, acknowledged and rewarded.” In such an atmosphere, bullying tactics are nonexistent, along with fear, intimidation, and harassment.

Durré notes that a “commitment to excellence,” along with “open and honest communication” and “compassion, respect and understanding,” is critical to a positive environment. My favorite sign she cites is “a sense of humor.” Durré says humor can help employees keep things in perspective, and laughter generates endorphins, which are natural antidepressants. John Brandon, in his “10 Commandments for Working on a Team” for, begins with, “Always be kind.” When we take anger, bitterness and emotion out of the equation and lead with kindness, it transforms the situation because everyone wants to be a part of something positive. That means removing sarcasm, resentment and anger from the tools to motivate others. Two of Brandon’s other commandments are, “Stop the gossip” and “Look for restoration.” Each of these is strongly encouraged in the Scriptures and is deeply ingrained as part of our faith.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

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