The workplace follows society. What's acceptable in the world becomes acceptable at work over time. Don't believe me? Check out a little piece of legislation called Title 7.
I rest my case. It's a magnetic pull that can't be denied.
But how far does that go? Paul Hebert recently highlighted an article from NPR that suggested the Charlie Sheen saga is going to make us more tolerable of...well... little Charlie Sheens running around the workplace. More From NPR:
"We are fascinated with Sheen because he is us — or, rather, he is what some of us already are and will be. Celebrities, for all their outlandish behavior, are often the bellwethers for what is next for the rest of us. Even as we tut-tut-tut about it, we are all taking notes.
What about the over-the-top, crazy-expensive weddings? Those used to be the exclusive province of royalty and the very rich. Now, as any advice columnist or wedding planner will tell you, they are considered almost the birthright of the children of the middle class. Ditto designer clothing and cosmetic surgery — and, yes, the quickie divorce. While divorce remains emotionally traumatic, it is no longer the expensive and protracted proposition that probably kept many families at least legally intact, even if the emotional ties were broken."
All those examples started with the rich and famous. Those examples got covered over time by the press, and gradually they seeped into society, and as a function of society, the workplace. Everyone started thinking it was OK. Freedom that's a part of America probably has something to do with that acceptance as well.
But what does Charlie Sheen mean to the workplace? The NPR article points not to Charlie, but to a long held standard of great results buying a behavioral outlier that I'll call "space":
"And I know this: He is not the first and will not be the last person to want to tell his boss to stuff it. He will not, in these times when loyalty to employees is nonexistent, be the last to point out inconveniently that however much he is being paid, his bosses are making that much more from the fruits of his labor. He will not be the last to believe, as many people seem to think in many other fields of endeavor, that he can do whatever he wants — sexually, financially, to other people's retirement accounts — as long as he is bringing in the cash. And while I personally don't think his behavior is healthy for his five kids to witness, is it any worse than seeing your parents humiliated by long-term unemployment? But a million people aren't tweeting about that, are they?"
So, it's not about being Charlie Sheen, it's about what you already know: It's about the rope that you buy when you're among the best in your field or company. It's about the No-Asshole Rule that Bob Sutton first penned.
Will seeing the Charlie Sheen saga in so much detail make us more tolerant of a--holes in the workplace? Read Paul's comments on this, because he rightfully thinks that you and I, as HR pros, are responsible to flush these types out of the organization. I get that and agree with that.
But high-performing employeees increasing crazy behavior as a result of seeing Sheen's on demand video performances? I doubt it. Even if it happens, in most organizations, the outlandish behavior makes determining an employment call easier.
The hard stuff? That will remain determining when to make a move on a high performer who is negative to the organization in much more discreet ways.
That's what you're dealing with today. It's going to remain harder than making a call on Sheen.
Hard to make those calls? You're not bi-polar, you're bi-WINNING.