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  • Brian Goldfeder

"Zero-Tolerance" Culture - A Perspective of the Advantages and Disadvantages

Before I begin, first I should mention that I have temporarily paused the series of applied I/O psychology concepts after two posts. Notwithstanding the short timeframe involved in preparation for my comprehensive exam, which was completed two days ago, I felt somewhat distracted by current events, both related and unrelated to I/O psychology.

With this in mind, I turn back to the recent firing of Jared Porter, general manager of the New York Mets, after only 37 days on the job, due to a sexual harassment incident that took place years earlier when he was with the Chicago Cubs. I received some backlash on that piece in trying to tie this to "cancel culture", and I was not the only one. A Twitter user named "Don Howitzer" responded to owner Steve Cohen's tweet announcing the firing with this:

Caving to cancel culture is abhorrent, now that his life has been ruined, what is his path to redemption Mr. Cohen?

What ensued was a barrage of tweets aimed at Howitzer, defending Cohen's (and the organization's actions). I don't think I saw one tweet that actually agreed with his statement. Cohen himself responded with this:

I have no idea .I have an organization of 400 employees that matter more than any one individual. No action would of set a poor example to the culture I’m trying to build.

The "culture" that Cohen refers to is a zero-tolerance culture, where actions like Porter's are grounds for immediate termination, regardless of how far in the past they occurred. Cohen himself remarked that "there should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.” Yet Cohen himself engaged in that type of behavior years before and was yet still allowed to buy the Mets. Double standard, much?


Speaking of double standard, Mark Madden from TribLive brought up this disturbing double-standard, comparing the Porter incident with a remarkably similar incident involving legendary quarterback Brett Favre (you know, the happily married man who in 1998 few to Miami to profess his love for his an ex-girlfriend, only to be rejected because she was a 49ers fan...OK, that was a movie reference). Movie jokes aside, if cancel culture was applied evenly, Favre would have been immediately waived and released by the Minnesota Vikings, even though the incident occurred two years earlier when he was with the New York Jets. Instead, he was fined $50,000 for failure to cooperate and the incident was swept under the rug. The victim, Jenn Sterger, meanwhile had her life ruined. That may be why the victim in the Jared Porter incident remains safely anonymous. Why she chose to wait 4 1/2 years to reveal this at the time when it would hurt Porter the most, though, is beyond me.


But I digress...


So when it comes to a zero-tolerance culture, anyone who works in such an organization can, on the one hand, feel safe in knowing that anyone who engages in any sort of questionable behavior will be held accountable. Yet on the other hand, there's also the nervous feeling of not wanting to engage in any sort of behavior that could be deemed questionable. How must it feel to constantly "walk on eggshells" all day long, not knowing if an off-hand remark not intended to be offensive is deemed as such and next thing you know, you're being escorted out of the building? That's where a line has to be drawn.


And zero-tolerance behavior is not limited to sexual harassment either. Workplace bullying and other counterproductive work behaviors can also be treated in a zero-tolerance fashion, where even so much as sending an e-mail that is interpreted as "cyberbullying" can be dealt with in a similar fashion. And if that wasn't bad enough, I myself - at two different jobs at two different times in my life - was verbally and harshly reprimanded simply for writing something on my computer to vent my frustrations, even though I had no intention of letting anyone see it but made the mistake of keeping it up on my screen when my boss happened to be standing behind my desk. Writing has always been therapeutic for me as a way to deal with job stress, and anxiety in general, but I could never let anyone see my writing because of the fear of how I might lose my job over it. Now that I am no longer at a "job", I have a little more freedom to blog about my experiences.


But enough about me...


When you have a zero-tolerance culture, it can get so bad that people won't even talk to each other and there is no socialization aspect within the work environment. And that could be counterproductive.


Again, I am not trying to defend counterproductive work behaviors and sexual harassment, but I think there has to be a chance for rehabilitation before someone gets fired rather than being fired for the first offense. Or maybe if the 400 employees of the organization agree, then you do something. But the last thing you want to do is scare your employees to the point they don't say "I hope I'm not next."


And a message to Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson: if you're going to promote a zero-tolerance culture, then maybe Luis Rojas should be immediately fired the next time he verbally berates an umpire during a game (I'll have another piece on that later this year), or maybe a player should immediately have his contract terminated for doing the same. If you don't, then you're setting a double-standard, and that could be even more harmful to the organization.


As I learn more about I/O psychology in the coming years, I will be able to figure out how organizations can strike a balance between having a healthy work environment but yet still holding people accountable for egregious actions. It's a tightrope we all walk.


Be healthy!

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