The news broke today that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has decided to end its relationship with top-rated cable news host Bill O’Reilly over mounting allegations of sexual harassment. The thing is, those allegations have been around for a long time. They weren’t news to the news corp. So, it wasn’t actually the sexual harassment that put him over the line.
A New York Times story out earlier this month revealed that five women who had worked with O’Reilly had been paid settlements totalling $13 million over settle harassment claims. That brought greater attention to the story. Major sponsors started pulling their advertisements from his show “The O’Reilly Factor.”
The only line that matters to employers
And that’s where he crossed the line. The only line that really matters for employers. The asset/liability line.
As long as O’Reilly could bring in large audiences for his show, and those audiences attracted advertising dollars, he was an asset to the company and worth protecting. However, once the reports of sexual harassment and settlements reached the broader public, he became a liability to the brand. Audiences turned the channel and advertisers didn’t want to have their products or services associated with him.
A similar thing happened with the Ray Rice story from a couple of years ago. The Baltimore Ravens football player was arrested for punching his girlfriend (now wife). The NFL suspended him for two games. A star football player is an asset to the league, He wins games and draws fans.
However, after TMZ released the video footage of the actual assault to the public, everything changed. Once people had seen Rice viciously slug his girlfriend in the head and then drag her unconscious body from an elevator, he crossed the asset/liability line. Former fans were outraged. His team dropped him, and he hasn’t played pro-football since.
Why it matters for your career
Employees are a company’s greatest assets. They are the talent, the creativity, the work that allows them to produce and profit. That is why organizations are so careful about who they hire. Employers calculate the value of the skills each new hire brings to the team and the contributions they do, and it has to add up to more than the total cost of recruiting them and paying for their salary and benefits.
As long as you produce more value than you cost, you are an asset to your employer. That is the reason employers keep you on. It is also what they consider when they choose to let someone go.
People lose their jobs over public outburst and social media fails that hurt their professional reputations and have the masses screaming for their heads. It’s not so much that your employer cares what you do on your own time or what you post on social media. They care about their brand. They spend countless dollars, building and promoting their brand. If you are publicly identified as an employee of the company and your behaviour tarnishes the brand, you’re a liability.
The bigger the star you are (Bill O’Reilly, Ray Rice) the more egregious your behaviour has to be to cross that line. The CBC put up with Jian Ghomeshi despite numerous accounts of harassment and anti-social behaviour for years because he was a star asset. Until be became a liability to the brand.
You need to create more value for an employer than you cost. You need to enhance the brand. Which is why your public and social media behaviour matter to your employer even when you’re not at work.
Of course, the best way to ensure you don’t inadvertently cross the asset/liability line is to not sexually harass anyone, not punch anybody, and generally be a decent person who behaves professionally and treats others with respect.