How not to be the Charlie Sheen of your office
— Michelle V. Rafter covers business and workplace issues for a variety of national publications. She is based in Portland, Oregon. This article originally appeared on SecondAct.com. The views expressed are her own. —
After Charlie Sheen publicly lambasted the executive producer and others involved in his top-rated TV comedy Two and a Half Men last week, CBS shut down production for the rest of the season. The announcement came days before the show’s cast was scheduled to go back to work following the 46-year-old star’s stint in rehab.
Now Sheen is threatening to sue and demanding a raise to a reported $3 million per episode, and it’s hard to say how or when the melodrama will end.
But one thing is clear: although Sheen’s made hundreds of millions for the network, the actor has become the ultimate bad employee, the loosest of loose cannons whose public pontifications are as unpredictable and over-the-top as his behavior.
In that regard, he’s a great example of what not to do at work. Companies don’t have to be in the entertainment business to value superstars, especially if they add substantially to the bottom line. But that doesn’t give high-profile employees permission to badmouth or otherwise harass colleagues or managers.
If you’re an office superstar, or if you aspire to be one, here are some steps that human resources professionals, labor law experts and career coaches suggest taking to avoid being the Charlie Sheen of your company.
1. Be careful what you say. Is it sexual harassment to share a dirty joke with co-workers? Rich Meneghello, a labor lawyer and partner with Fisher & Phillips in Portland, Ore., suggests using a simple test to determine whether an off-color joke or potentially offensive anecdote could get you into hot water: If you wouldn’t say it in front of your significant other, don’t say it at work, he said.
2. Keep your work life and your private life separate. Sheen worked hard for years before his party-hardy lifestyle started affecting his job performance. “It’s when you let them crash into each other that the whole thing becomes unviable,” said Mike VanDervort, a Florida-based HR consultant.
3. Show co-workers the same respect you want them to show you. The more you step on or over your co-workers, the more they will hate you for everything you do, said Richard Alman, owner of RecruiterNetworks.com, a Miami-based national job-board chain. A smart person wouldn’t intentionally create an environment where people are waiting for them to fail, Alman said. “Instead, create a place (where) people respect you and want you to be a winner since you help others around you be winners, too.”
4. Realize the group is bigger than you are. Stars like Sheen and former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds didn’t get that, and it’s cost them, said Randy Block, a Novato, Calif., executive coach. Superstar or not, “you need to examine how your behavior impacts the team,” he said. Likewise, baseball managers, company owners and hiring supervisors need to take into account whether the people they hire are emotionally mature enough to be good team players, he said.
5. Don’t send messages when you’re mad. When you’re in the heat of a disagreement with a boss or a co-worker, it’s easy to fire off a reactionary e-mail or text message. But once you send it, you can’t undo it. “If you want to type out your full-on fury, address the e-mail to yourself and give it one day,” said Jonscott Turco, an HR management consultant with BPI Group in New York. “Read it the next workday and see how you feel after cooling down a bit.”
6. Watch what you post on social networks. You never know who might be reading your Facebook or Twitter status updates: a business partner or someone from inside or outside your company who is interested in hiring or promoting you. “Be mindful of how much you let the social media ‘paparazzi’ document your escapades,” Turco said. And, he added, if you use social networks to slam a boss or co-worker, even if you don’t name names, whatever you say is ultimately going to be a bigger reflection on you than on the person who’s the target of your comments.
7. Be excellent at your job. If you’re fantastic at what you do, your employer may be willing to cut you a certain amount of slack. However, companies that appear to condone different standards of behavior for different employees could end up hurting themselves in the long run, Meneghello said.
8. Stick to the straight and narrow. To Brent Peterson, proprietor of a job interview prep service called Interview Angel, the way to stay in your employer’s good graces is pretty simple: “stay off drugs.”