Weekly Wrap: Lessons on How Not to Manage Employees From NY’s Mayor

As someone who lives a continent away from New York City but gets to watch a brash talking but grossly underperforming (and ethically challenged) big city mayor up close (yes, that’s you Antonio Villaraigosa), I tend to look longingly on what New Yorkers have in Michael Bloomberg.

That’s why a New York Times story this week came as a shock. Who would have thought that America’s Mayor, as Rudy Giuliani used to call the job, would be a backward thinking Neanderthal (with apologies to Neanderthals) when it came to workforce polices?

The Times story is about a deposition New York Mayor Bloomberg gave two years ago as part of a “federal discrimination lawsuit against Bloomberg L.P., the giant financial services and media corporation that he founded. And while the deposition took place two years ago, Mr. Bloomberg’s comments were not made public until this month: a few excerpts were included in a recent filing by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

The mayor, who is the majority shareholder of the company that bears his name, “is not a defendant in the class-action lawsuit, which was filed in 2007 on behalf of 65 employees who argued that the business had engaged in a pattern of discrimination against pregnant women who took maternity leave. The lawsuit focuses on events that are said to have occurred after he left to run for mayor in 2001.”

But as the Times writes:

It is rare for a sitting mayor — let alone one whose legacy is linked to the company that bears his name — to be deposed in any case, much less one that is so sensitive, touching on gender and workplace culture.

Even before the case was filed, Mr. Bloomberg and his company had been dogged by a reputation as a boys’ club. In one instance, Mr. Bloomberg was alleged to have said that if he allowed women to work part time for having children, men would ask to take time off to work on their golf games. Mr. Bloomberg was also sued in 1997 by a sales executive who claimed that after she became pregnant, he urged her to have an abortion, telling her, “Kill it!” Mr. Bloomberg adamantly denied any wrongdoing and settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.

In the current case, recent court documents submitted by the commission show what it asserts to be a pattern among company executives, not only of bias, but also of outright hostility toward women who took maternity leave, with some executives suggesting that they did not deserve to work for Bloomberg L.P.”

If that’s not bad enough, there’s this:

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At one point in his testimony, Mr. Bloomberg mocked flexible work schedules and telecommuting by suggesting an alternative to videotaping his remarks from the discomfort of his lawyers’ offices… He (also said) that as a hard-driving and ultracompetitive boss, he considered those who left his company disloyal and “bad people.”

There is nothing wrong with being a “hard-driving and ultracompetitive boss.” I’ve worked for a few of them over the course of my career; some were tough minded but fair, while others were tough minded and terrible. But good or bad, none ever said the kinds of things Mike Bloomberg said during this deposition.

Is this how New York’s mayor truly feels — towards working women, maternity leave, and flexible workplace schedules? Does he really believe this is the best way to effectively manage and motivate a workforce in the second decade of the 21st Century? Maybe my view of Bloomberg has been blocked a bit from 3,000 miles away.

But, there’s more going on this week than Mike Bloomberg trash-talking his workforce. Here are few more HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Casual Fridays get out of hand. I used to work in Hawaii, where the concept of casual “Aloha Fridays” started. It’s a great concept as long as it is doesn’t get out of hand, but guess what? According to USA Today, it’s gotten out of hand in many workplaces. “There is little question that business casual, largely popularized by the dot-com craze in Silicon Valley, has permeated the workplace, with six in 10 employers allowing a dress-down day at least once a week,” the newspaper says. “But a backlash is brewing: The number of employers allowing casual dress days every day has plunged from 53% in 2002 to a new low of 38% … (largely) because of the confusion generated by business casual standards.”
  • Workplace lawsuits reach record levels. More and more workers are taking their unhappiness to the courts, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “They are part of a flood of wage and hour cases that reached record levels in 2010,” the newspaper says. “Nearly 6,800 private-sector lawsuits were filed nationwide. In Northern Ohio, the number of cases was up 37 percent over the year before. The Department of Labor, meanwhile, handled about 32,000 wage and hour complaints in 2010, a jump of 33 percent in just two years. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says pay and promotion cases are now the biggest category of employment discrimination filings. “No question about it. There’s been explosive growth in wage and hour complaints,” said employer-side attorney James Stone, managing partner of the Cleveland office of the Jackson Lewis law firm.”
  • Pet insurance grows in popularity. I remember back when companies offered pet insurance as a nice little voluntary benefit on the side. Well, it’s not a little benefit any more. “Pet health insurance has been available in the United States for nearly 30 years, but expanded veterinary treatments and changing attitudes toward the family pet have bolstered the number of policies over the last decade, even during the economic downturn,” says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch . “Changes in people’s social support systems — higher divorce rates, fewer children and people living farther away from their families — has helped drive this trend, said James Serpell, a veterinary ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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