Workplace bullying: Should “creative” folks get a pass? (Uh, no)

In a lengthy, detailed investigative piece for Variety magazine last December, Gene Maddaus reports on Live Nation Entertainment’s decision to place leading producer Heather Parry (“A Star is Born”) on leave, in the wake of multiple accusations of severe workplace bullying and verbal abuse directed at subordinates.

The full article (here) provides extensive descriptions of numerous stories of bullying and harassment:

Over the past several months, Variety interviewed 23 former employees of Live Nation Prods. and of Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison, where Parry had previously worked for 10 years. Most of the people would only speak on condition of anonymity, but those interviewed on background described Parry as manipulative, demeaning, and verbally abusive.

The many specific accounts of bullying and harassment contained in the piece should help to educate those who dismiss these behaviors as mere personality differences or who claim that it’s simply about being a tough boss. To the contrary, these allegations describe behaviors that repeatedly cross the line into the category of abuse.

When Variety contacted me and explained that they were working on this story, I got the sense of a boss who repeatedly harassed and abused her underlings to ensure that only the subservient ones were left standing:

Experts say that such an environment will screen out people based on their willingness to withstand abuse, and not on their talents.

“The hazing and the breakdown process is trying to identify those who will act in a subservient way,” says David Yamada, a law professor at Suffolk University. “You end up with people who are technically competent but emotionally subservient.”

Hey, she’s just being a “creative”

Nevertheless, some in Hollywood defend such behaviors, explaining that, among other things, this is part of the creative process:

But bullying employees is still largely accepted in Hollywood. Some argue that there are rationales for it: it toughens people up, it weeds out those who can’t hack it, or it’s an essential part of the creative process.

Indeed, Live Nation CFO Kathy Willard appears to suggest that we need to give abusive “creatives” a break:

Willard also seemed to make allowances for Parry’s behavior because she is “creative.”

“We all know working with creatives, it’s an interesting world,” she said. “Creatives are different personalities.”

Good grief.

Are these folks really claiming that creative people have some innate quality of abusiveness toward others that is outweighed by their productive brilliance? Or maybe it’s another take on the oft-heard defense that we need to give super-talented folks a free pass if they happen to treat other workers like dirt. 

Generally speaking, I think it behooves all of us to be able to work with a wide variety of personalities at work. And maybe that includes extending some understanding toward those who aren’t very good at playing with others in the sandbox. But no one should have to withstand the abuse described in these reports as a condition of remaining employed.

Indeed, this is what the workplace anti-bullying campaign has stood for from the outset: That everyone is entitled to a baseline of dignity and decent treatment at work. It’s that simple.

3 responses

  1. I’m sure they are used to accepting abuse being part of the creative process. Like a lot of bullying, the behaviors are so embedded and have been accepted for so long that people don’t even know that these behaviors are severely dysfunctional. If there was leadership with a moral compass in all circumstances, we could call out these standards of behavior, but who is the watchdog if cruelty and bullying dance merrily in your everyday work? In a school district, for example, the bullying is so systemic that the majority appears to recognize bullying as a norm. If the target cries out in cases where everyone deems cruelty the norm, how does change occur? And without more suffering for the person who is brave enough to be the truth sayer. Believe me, one does not want to be the whistle blower where cruelty is either accepted or revered. How does change occur in such a situation? Do people high up in organizations know these issues, yet dare not touch them for fear of a lawsuit. A school district’s worst fear, a huge lawsuit, right? Another conundrum… when people care more about money than people. Don’t assume you will find these fine souls in places that work with children.

    • I echo the same feelings and experiences Jacqueline. I worked in a variety of industries and organizations (law, real estate, finance, human resources, non-profits). The places where cruelty and bullying are the norm are hopelessly toxic. Worse yet – when the leadership lacks self-awareness and believes the organization to be a wonderful working environment, endlessly touting non-existent morale. Complaining, taking a stand, or trying to change the dynamics (from a powerless position) within the organization is impossible. There isn’t anyone who will hear or take corrective action. I’ve always been forced to leave and am especially careful now when choosing employment relationships.

  2. Thank you for the validation. We will continue to keep our standards high and hopefully live with grace and dignity. It is a very deep and personal commitment to treat others with care.

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