Rules of the Game is the new thriller that debuted on BBC One this week; it depicts toxic workplace culture and explores the themes of misogyny, workplace bullying and scandal.
Ruth Fowler, who penned the four-part series, was inspired in part by the #MeToo movement which went viral online in 2017 when a number of notable celebrities voiced their experiences of being assaulted or harassed, amidst the rising notoriety of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Fowler aims to present this prominent issue through the lens of a workplace, rather than the entertainment industry.
Rules of the Game offers a no-holds-barred look into questionable business ethics and conduct that has been swept under the carpet time and time again until one new recruit, HR Director Maya Benshaw, chooses to challenge the status quo.
Employers should look to the events of the programme thus far as an example of how not to manage a business.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, applauds the exploration and critique of sexism and prejudice within the workplace:
“In the first half of this series, we have already seen the impact of inadequately managed employee mental health and the catastrophic impact this can have on the work environment, with one character falling into alcoholism to deal with the devastating death of her friend and colleague.
“It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to providing support, and what may work effectively for one person, might not work for another. However, ongoing two-way communication is crucial in understanding how to support your employees, whether it’s though use of your employee assistance programme, granting a period of sick leave, providing additional assistance at work, or even just offering a listening ear.
“Another recurring theme portrayed in the show is that the workplace is something of a riotous ‘Boy’s Club’ where young recruits are expected to drink excessively, partake in illegal drugs and engage in sexual relations with senior figures.
“This brings into question a number of business ethics. It’s important to understand that even if the drinking and drug-taking doesn’t take part on company property, it is still seen as taking place ‘in the course of employment’ where the employer still has a duty of care for their employees.
“In addition, sexual relationships between colleagues can be difficult to manage – particularly when one arises between a senior and a delegate.
“A good move for an organisation to manage this would be to have a policy on inter-office romances which requires the disclosure of relationships or for seniors to move positions when such relationships develop. Having employees sign and date this policy serves as evidence that they understand and acknowledge these guidelines should any of these situations arise within the office.
“However, that is to assume the relationships are consensual. Employers have a duty to prevent sexual harassment and can be vicariously liable if it occurs at work.
“I suggest that businesses make employees aware of their sexual harassment policies and take steps to educate the workforce on what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as the company’s expectation of conduct and professionalism.
“We’ve also seen the issue of improper reporting and documentation within raised within the TV show.
“The law requires employers to keep HR records on their staff. These records will include personal information, payroll data, among other things, and legislation sets out the length of time that businesses need to keep their personnel files, even after an employee leaves.
“Keeping employee records is essential and stretches far beyond the legal responsibilities of an employer.
“Whilst Sam Thompson, the fictional COO in Rules of the Game, has admitted to destroying employee records to hide an as-yet unknown scandal, this is not just illegal, it would also seriously hinder the company’s ability to defend itself should a court case arise – although I severely doubt this questionably-run company would have a leg to stand on in the courtroom!
“I await the second half of the series eagerly, and hope to see the new HR Director Maya, effectively address the issues that have resulted in a toxic workplace, transforming it into an environment that is legal, ethical and appropriate.”