Does “Toxic Boss” Jimmy Fallon Deserve a Second Chance?

An apology is not enough. Toxic managers need to own up to their bad behavior and learn from their mistakes.

It was in the news last week that Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon was accused of creating a toxic workplace. He apologized. Is that enough when a manager is found to be toxic, or do organizations have a responsibility to terminate toxic managers? Can they be reformed and given a second chance?

The news about Fallon originated from a RollingStone article by Krystie Lee Yandoli, who writes:

“According to two current and 14 former employees, The Tonight Show has been a toxic workplace for years—far outside the boundaries of what’s considered normal in the high-pressure world of late-night TV. They say the ugly environment behind the scenes starts at the top with Fallon’s erratic behavior, and has trickled down to its ever-changing leadership teams—nine showrunners in the last nine years—who seemingly don’t know how to say no to Jimmy. Former employees describe The Tonight Show as a tense and ‘pretty glum atmosphere,’ with some alleging they were belittled and intimidated by their bosses, including Fallon himself. Employees describe being afraid of Fallon’s ‘outbursts’ and unexpected, inconsistent behavior. Many of these staffers voiced their concerns through HR complaints, but problems at The Tonight Show persisted.”

Can They Be Reformed?

The advantage Fallon has over many other toxic bosses is that he’s harder to replace than they are. As the star of a popular late-night show, replacing him would cause upheaval and a potential loss of viewership ratings and advertising. His company, NBC Universal, has a strong incentive to give him a second chance. But how about the non-famous toxic managers in organizations worldwide? Do they also deserve a second chance to be reformed and become evolved, productive managers?

One huge question that has to be answered before Human Resources and Learning professionals can decide whether a toxic manager deserves a second chance is whether a toxic manager can be reformed. And, if they can, in fact, be reformed, how do you do that?

Reform Strategies

You could require the toxic manager to go through private sessions with a trainer and Human Resources representative in which their inappropriate behavior would be reviewed. The manager would be shown how they should have responded to employees in a variety of situations they handled poorly. The manager then would have to show they understand by completing a test (verbal or written) in which they have to explain how they would respond to a few challenging situations with employees.

After the manager completed that training with a Learning professional and Human Resources representative, they would be supervised at various times by the trainer and HR professional. They would never know when the trainer and HR colleague might pop into a meeting to sit in and listen, or when one or both of these individuals might stop by where the manager’s work group resides to observe and listen to the employees and manager interacting.

The trainer and HR professional also could check in monthly for at least a year with employees who work under the manager to see how the manager is doing from the employees’ perspective.

An Apology Is Not Enough

The understanding between the organization and manager would be that this is their second and last chance. If Learning and/or HR professionals have reason to believe the manager’s toxic behavior is continuing, they will be terminated.

If you give the toxic manager a second chance without outlining a detailed structure for reforming them, and then observing for a long time period to make sure the teachings worked, you risk alienating employees. An employee who has suffered under toxic management likely will become demoralized if they think the manager who was identified as toxic only had to apologize to be given a second chance with free rein to go back to their old ways.

Gauge Long-Term Impacts

When you weigh the value of a toxic, yet effective, manager, employee morale and corporate culture also must be weighed heavily. The manager may meet their obligations from a short-term financial perspective, but from a long-term perspective, how much are they costing the company? How many valuable employees have left and will continue to leave because of them, and in what negative ways has this manager impacted the corporate culture?

If you don’t see clear signs of reform and improvement, it’s probably best, regardless of the manager’s status in the organization, to terminate them.

Does your organization have a protocol for dealing with toxic managers? How do you offer them a second chance while protecting the employees who work under the manager and your company culture?