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Did Charlie Sheen Make Narcissistic Employee Behavior More Tolerable?

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 Charlie-sheen-jail_0 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.



I think in that industry as a whole- yes it has. I think much of what actors are doing these days has made us all a bit more tolerable to bad behavior. I hope it has not bled into the business world. I do know that I see more & more public officials getting away with behaviors that would have normally got them fired & ruined their lives forever. Now it's a slap on the wrist & go back to business as usual.


It's become very clear (to me anyway) that our society has become much more tolerant and forgiving over the last several years. Case in point, Martha Stewart. She was convicted and spend time in prison for her crime. Today, she's back in business and it's as if she was never gone. In years past, that would've been the end of a career. I also think about the Jet Blue flight attendant who grabbed a couple of beers, announced his resignation to the entire plane and jumped down the emergency slide. I wonder how many employees are plotting some similar type of "exit" today when the economy picks up and that better opportunity finally comes along?

Your point about Sheen is a good one. The best thing we, as HR pros, can do is to stay close to the people, stay true to our company's values and nip things in the bud as quickly and as early as we can, lest these types get a "following". ; )

Nicole Chardenet

Martha Stewart's crime was seriously small potatoes. The much more important question is, why is Bernie Madoff the only appreciably big name from Wall Street who's gone to jail? Why did MS go to jail when no banker so far has?


Truth is no matter who the personality (famous or not) these types of narcissistic employees exist everywhere in all companies. They are known at many organizations as leaders! You just need a good handler to utilize the energy for good.

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