By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen a recent example of workplace violence at the 2022 Oscar ceremonies when comedian Chris Rock was assaulted while working onstage. A nominee who was displeased about Rock’s comments about his wife marched onto the stage and whacked Rock in the face during his monologue. There’s an old saying, “You can put lipstick on a pig and call it Monique, but it’s still a pig underneath.” Although Oscar attendees were coiffed, bejeweled and draped in designer gowns, it was Hollywood’s ugliest night. It’s important to note that the Oscar stage is a workplace where celebrities are paid big bucks for their toil. And it’s important to not let the glamour mask that the world witnessed a real-life episode of workplace violence that has escalated in this country in recent years.
An estimated two million people fall victim to workplace bullying and violence annually. A Korn Ferry Survey revealed that 70% of professionals were more guarded at work in 2019 than five years before, and 58% believed teamwork and comradery suffered because of increased guardedness. Statistics show that workplace violence causes American businesses to lose an average of $250 to $330 billion every year. After returning to his seat, the assailant continued to bombard Rock with foul language, causing the network to kill the microphones. According to published reports, when asked to leave, the perpetrator refused. People in the audience, backstage and around the world were stunned. Many observers reacted with shock, disbelief and physical discomfort. The Academy’s Board of Governors, although outraged, have yet to render a decision of how they plan to handle the battery.
Since the Oscar incident, mass media has spotlighted the actions of the assailant. Streaming outlets and television stations played a clip of the physical and verbal assault over and over again. The media replay of the violence is reminiscent of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the assassination of John Lennon in 1980, and the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981. But Fred Rogers on his Mister Rogers’ neighborhood television show did something different. While the media replayed clips of those violent episodes, Mister Rogers, practiced resiliency. In all three incidents, Rogers highlighted the strengths of the people around the victims—the good work of the helpers—instead of focusing on the violence. “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility,” Mister Rogers once said. “It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Action heroes don’t always wear capes and tights, and they don’t always blow in at the last moment to save the day with brute force. Sometimes they show up in quieter, nonviolent ways like Chris Rock—the real hero of the night who set an example for all of us on how to handle a bully. If Mister Rogers were still with us, he would put the spotlight on Rock instead if the aggressor. The comedian didn’t retaliate verbally or physically, didn’t press charges or publicly vilify his assailant. He didn’t even show anger. He rallied from the assault and continued his routine—even garnered a few laughs. He did exactly what Mister Rogers would advise, “Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.” As violence escalates in workplaces and schools in America, Chris Rock’s resilience is an example for everyone showing the strength of nonviolence versus brute force. Unfortunately, that message has been eclipsed by the media’s focus on the perpetrator’s actions instead of those of the victim.
Creating a safe and non-threatening work environment is the responsibility of every business. To perform optimally at work, employees must feel physically and psychologically safe from distractions or threats. If you’re being harassed or bullied at work (virtually or face-to-face), avoid retaliating against the perpetrator, as Chris Rock did. But take action. Bring the incident to the attention of your manager or human resources officer.
Most companies have zero tolerance against workplace violence. They have established safety policies against bullying, harassment and violence that shield employees from threats and intimidation and ensure offices are secure from intruders. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves to know the company’s safety policy and to take necessary steps for our physical and psychological safety. If you are a business leader, it’s important to make sure you have clear policies and guidelines and communicate them effectively so employees are apprised of the actions that fall under unacceptable behaviors.
According to one study, 75% of workplace harassment victims experienced retaliation when they spoke up. This pattern causes many victims of harassment and violence to choose to remain silent. Organizational leaders must make sure to set guidelines on how to protect complainants from losing their job or further harassment and abuse. According to Tom Miller, co-founder and CEO of Clearforce, an analytic behavioral risk management company, warning signs and employee complaints should never be ignored. Acting sooner rather than later gives employers the ability to work with the employee and prevent a problem from escalating. “We are providing real-time alerts of high risk behavior inside and outside the organization to support the early and ongoing discovery of at-risk employees,” he said. “Our real time alerts range from peer-reporting or self-reporting of illegal or non-complaint behavior, to criminal arrests and convictions or indications of personal financial stress.” Miller stresses the importance of transparent and immediate communication and a shared commitment for safety and security between employer and employees. “The earlier an organization becomes aware of potential issues, the more options they have for preemptive action to course correct issues before they become significant problems,” Miller added.
Fans and colleagues have rallied around Chris Rock for the mature and professional way he handled the abuse on Oscar night—a class act. We wait to see what, if any, disciplinary proceedings the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will take. Meanwhile, tickets for Rock’s comedy tour have sold out around the country, and he is enjoying several standing ovations each night. Chris Rock is a hero; he made goodness attractive. Mister Rogers would be proud to know that good deeds come to good people.
With the summer months now upon us, the higher-than-average temperatures further increase the risk of underreported work-related injuries and fatalities. Our CEO Tom Miller highlighted what industry leaders can and should be doing year-round to improve safety in their workplaces, and more for Occupational Health & Safety.