CBS Takes Dramatic Steps to Curb Reputational Damage Following Harassment Allegations

In an effort to build a “stronger CBS,” the network television giant has taken drastic #MeToo related steps to identify and reduce incidents of sexual harassment in its work environment, according to a December 14 Business Insider article. Much ink has been spilled about the sexual misconduct, allegations against former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, and the “culture of workplace harassment” that was allowed to persist under his watch prior to his termination “for cause” some time ago. In response to conversations with potential plaintiffs’ lawyers and growing resentment against the network among employees and viewers, CBS has taken significant steps toward improving its workplace culture.

According to the Business Insider article, CBS has agreed to survey its employees for feedback on company activities. Employees received an anonymous survey in late November and were encouraged to provide open and honest feedback. To the company’s credit, CBS encouraged all employees to help build a stronger culture that does not include sexual misconduct.

Additionally, CBS emailed staff on December 14 that it plans to implement new programs to ensure communication is open, refresh training programs in line with employees’ interests and generally make life better for all CBS employees. This comes in reaction to not just Moonves’ behavior, but also as a result of three lawsuits filed against CBS for “blatant and repeated” sexual harassment by former CBS anchor Charlie Rose.

When viewed in totality, it is clear that the culture at CBS needs significant change. Although the company was correct to take the steps it is taking, it is sad to see yet another in a long line of large corporations only take the needed steps as a reaction to a high-profile incident. For all the good the #MeToo movement has done in raising awareness of employees’ rights to speak out, companies still do not understand that they need to be proactive in their approaches to changing their cultures before a lawsuit or bad publicity forces them to do so.

The difference between proactively changing what is already seen as a positive culture and doing so on a reactionary basis to news reports and lawsuits is the difference between doing great things for your employees and attempting to create a culture that is “not bad.” Companies need to be better than “not bad”, they need to strive for cultures where employees can be comfortable and thrive in their work environment, free from the fear of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Syntrio works every day to make sure that can happen in our client organizations.

‘Oliver the Ornament’: A Christmas Tale With Workplace Parallels

In our house we practice the “Four Gifts of Christmas Rule” - each person receives one gift they want, one gift they need, one gift they wear and one gift they read.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions for the first three gifts on the list. But I do have a great recommendation for the gift you read, and it also ties in nicely with the difficult task we have as parents trying to explain to our children what we do at work every day.

Earlier today, the US President’s wife, First Lady Melania Trump visited Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC for the time-honored tradition of reading to the patients. This year’s book was Todd M. Zimmerman’s Oliver the Ornament, a heartwarming story about a group of ornaments preparing for the Christmas season.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how a children’s Christmas book can draw parallels to the adult workplace but, as the story unfolds, it is easy to see the juxtaposition of what employees in workplaces experience every day:

  • Oliver is simply one of a larger group of ornaments.
    • One employee within a larger organization.
  • Oliver has always been a prized ornament; however, this year he has a broken arm, so he is not sure if he will get put up on the tree.
    • Will diversity or discrimination stop the employee from getting the promotion or receiving recognition?
  • Edsel, a fire truck ornament, bullies Oliver and encourages other ornaments to do the same. 
    • A clear example of workplace bullying and discrimination.
  • Edsel even plots to have Oliver hidden away so he won’t be put on the Christmas tree.
    • An obvious instance of office politics.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but rest assured that I would not have suggested the story if it wasn’t a happy one.

Oliver the Ornament a great springboard for discussions with your children about bullying. You can use it to explain to them that when you go to work every day, you try to serve as the advocate for the ‘Olivers’ where you work to ensure that every employee has a safe place to turn when confronted with an ‘Edsel’ at your office.

Also, it might not hurt to keep a copy of Oliver the Ornament handy on your desk for a little light reading for your team should an ‘Edsel’ rears his or her head.

For more information about Oliver the Ornament, visit

‘Tis the Season — for ethical gift-giving practices

Business is a human, social activity that focuses on building and strengthen relationships. And so, offering gifts can, at certain times, be a valuable part of business as a way to demonstrate respect or show appreciation for a customer or partner organization, including for business partners in other cultures.

Ethical Snapshot: Helpful reminders about the proper role of business gifts and entertainment and when they lead to questionable practices.

Why could an issue arise?

While gifts and entertainment are often given and received in business, they can be a hotbed for ethics and legal concerns. Depending on the context in which a gift is offered, gift-giving may be misconstrued by others as:

  • A conflict of interest
  • A way to provide improper influence on a business decision
  • Attempted bribery or kickback

What could happen?

Poorly considered exchanges of business courtesies could:

  • Disqualify your organization from potential business opportunities
  • Lead to legal fines and other sanctions
  • Smear reputations
  • Ruin careers

What should you do before giving a gift?

Offering gifts or entertainment should not put you, your colleagues or your organization at risk. Before you exchange these business courtesies within a business setting, you should be asking yourself three questions:

  1. What are the rules for exchanging gifts and entertainment?
  2. Are the local customs for the exchange of business courtesies appropriate for my business and the situation?
  3. Should I seek guidance on the subject, and is this guidance sound?

What should you do before receiving a gift?

When acting on behalf of an organization, individuals should never accept gifts and benefits unless it is clear that the particular gift or benefit:

  1. Does not diminish the authority or ability of the organization’s representative to independently make decisions and act in the best interest of the organization
  2. Enhances the best interests of the organization as a whole, either by providing more time to learn about the inner workings of the client or company being served, or education about the greater corporate community as a whole
  3. Has no apparent impact on professional judgment or appearance of bias.

About Ethical Snapshots: Ethical snapshots are microlearning and communications modules designed to address a range of ethics and compliance issues through videos and follow-on questions to prompt the learner to explore a situation and consider ways to best address it. Ethical Snapshots can be used in your organization as emails to your employees, on video monitors in high-traffic areas or during instructor/manager-led training. View More Ethical Snapshots