3 Lessons Learned From The Ellen DeGeneres Debacle

by Aug 11, 2020

If you keep up with celebrity news you’ve seen the articles claiming a toxic work environment behind the scenes of the Ellen Degeneres Show. 

Employees are coming forward and sharing their negative experiences working on the show, and there are some pretty serious allegations against Ellen, her producers, and the environment as a whole.

To be clear, I’m not saying the claims against Ellen and her team are true or false or taking a stance on the issue. However, there are some teachable moments in this whole debacle, especially around leadership accountability. 

First, top leaders have an increased responsibility for perpetuating positive behavior, and for addressing negative behavior when it occurs. While everyone is responsible for culture, leaders especially, set the tone for what is and isn’t okay. It comes from the top down. 

For example, Ellen’s producer, Ed Galvin, was specifically identified as a consistent aggressor. Reports claim that he yells at staff, uses intimidating tactics in meetings, and even has a history of sexual harassment.

Apparently, he behaved this way in production meetings with Ellen present and she did not address the behavior. Her silence communicated that negative behavior would be tolerated and is even condoned. Not to mention, it sent the message that reporting similar or worse behaviors was pointless because it wouldn’t be addressed.

Another alleged aggressor said, “I have never had a single complaint against me in my career.” This begs the question – do employees genuinely enjoy working with him, or are employees just afraid to come forward?

Second, leaders need to behave the same way all the time, no matter the context. Ellen has been an icon in the media for years. She’s been revered as a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ visibility, caring philanthropist, comedian, talk show host – the list goes on. Simply put, people adore and idolize her.

However, former employees and even some of her guests claim that her behavior behind the scenes doesn’t reflect her image in the media. One even said, “she’s not the person people see in front of the camera.”

Those who have looked up to Ellen in the past are now wondering if her positivity is truly genuine or if it’s all an act. 

This is why it’s so important to live the core values you preach to others regularly. If you communicate that positivity is imperative, but allow negative behavior in your workplace, you’ll lose all credibility. Good luck trying to get employees on board with anything you do or say after that. 

Third, ignorance is not a defense. When it comes to the well-being of employees, top leaders are expected to be on high alert. Unfortunately Ellen’s apology letter shifts the blame from herself to other leaders, stating that she was unable to keep track of everything as the show grew and so she was unaware of these issues.

While this may be the truth, she’s ultimately responsible for monitoring other leaders and the organizational culture as a whole. In other words, even if she didn’t know, she SHOULD HAVE KNOWN because she should’ve been keeping track.

A toxic culture doesn’t just sprout up over night, it’s nurtured and encouraged to grow. As it grows, more and more symptoms of a negative work environment begin to emerge. Top leaders must be on the lookout for these warning signs, which may include high turnover or low productivity. 

At the end of the day

Top leaders have a long way to fall, and Ellen is a great example of that. Although other A-list celebrities are coming to her defense and claiming that Ellen is nothing but nice to them, the state of the workplace ultimately reflects back on leadership. 

Whether or not the allegations are true, her reputation and the reputation of The Ellen Show will be tarnished for a long time. She’s fallen from grace and it’ll be hard to come back from this.

Lesson learned from Ellen – top leaders must make a genuine effort to foster and stay on top of an environment where employees are happy, engaged and thriving.

Rebecca Del Secco
Consultant & Future VP

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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