Magazine article Workforce Management

Bad Breakup

Magazine article Workforce Management

Bad Breakup

Article excerpt

Perhaps the Red Cross board was too hasty in pushing Mark Everson out the door for his personal relationship with a subordinate.

HERE'S A HYPOTHETICAL business problem to ponder: What do you do when your top executive, someone who has only been on the job a short time yet has quickly revamped and revitalized the organization, has a momentary moral lapse and gets involved romantically with a subordinate?

In America's 21st century business environment, there's an easy, knee-jerk answer-you get rid of the executive involved, even if he (or she) is doing a great job. That's what happened to American Red Cross president Mark Everson, who resigned late last month after admitting that he had engaged in a personal relationship with a subordinate.

For many, this is a cut-and-dried issue. After all, this is not France. How can an executive, particularly the top executive, continue to command the respect of the workforce after such a huge moral misstep? Wasn't the Red Cross board right to call Everson on the carpet and force him out?

You might say yes, but surprisingly, a lot of America's business press is seeing it a bit differently.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, "While CEOs sometimes have relationships with subordinates, until recently it was rare for such behavior to lead to a public dismissal." And The New York Times talked to Regina Rafferty, a consultant to Red Cross donors, who was critical of the board's quick action. "I'm sure there were sanctions," she told the Times, "that could have been taken short of firing the man, which wasted the 18 months they spent searching for him, any money spent on that search, and his six months' worth of learning."

Two experts on workplace romance, Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen, authors of Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding-and Managing-Romance on the Job, also questioned the seemingly precipitous decision by the Red Cross board.

As they point out in an online column on the Huffington Post, "The American Red Cross has been a troubled organization in recent years, and more turmoil at the top is the last thing this worthy charity needs. ... Ironically Everson, who had only been on the job for six months, had won raves for the agency's handling of this fall's California wildfires. …

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