Hairdryer treatment: four workplace bust-ups that went viral

21 May 2015 -


All it takes is a little technology for ugly workplace friction to run riot over the internet – as these four videos go to show

Matt Packer

Of all the HR issues linked to talent management, disciplinary proceedings are relished on neither side of the bargain. In an ideal world, a stern talking to or invitation to take the exit would be handed down well behind closed doors, remaining largely invisible to the other employees until that fateful note of a looming departure hits their inboxes.

The following cases are not even remotely like that – and show that all it takes is a little technology for bullying in the workplace and other ugly friction to spill out into the public domain…

1. Patch of anger: Tim Armstrong

In what has become a textbook example of how not to conduct a dismissal, AOL chief Armstrong sacked Abel Lenz – boss of AOL-owned news service Patch – during a conference call with 1,000 employees listening in. Dozens of other workers were present in the room where the pair clashed, with Armstrong apparently furious that Lenz was filming the meeting on a digital camera. Interestingly, Tim Armstrong is also the name of the singer in US punk band Rancid… perhaps they should do a job swap one day?


2. Terminator mode: Christian Bale

Hell hath no fury like a method actor in character, as Terminator: Salvation cameraman Shane Hurlbut found out to his cost on the movie’s set in July 2008. Hurlbut’s crime was to pass through Bale’s eyeline to adjust a light as the star filmed an intense scene with leading lady Bryce Dallas Howard. Cue a paint-stripping mega-rant of proportions more epic than the film itself – helpfully captured by the sound crew and sent to the production’s insurance firm, who stored it as leverage in case the actor decided to, ah, Bale. The clip leaked the following year – and to give you an idea of how un-Christian the actor was, this clean version of less than two minutes was boiled down from an eight minute original.


3. Signals of annoyance: WGWG-LP Radio

As they were about to go on air last December, Chicago jocks Ben Finfer and Alex Quigley learned that they were up for the chopping block in a forthcoming closure of their ambitious – but low-rated – sports channel. How did they come by this information? Why, by stumbling upon a tweet from local journalist Robert Feder, who’d already got inside track from the station’s owner, Tribune Broadcasting. Here are Finfer and Quigley using the first nine minutes of that fateful show to slam Tribune for not informing them of those plans personally…


4. Drive-thru diatribe: Adam Smith / Chick-Fil-A

In an example of a top exec putting himself in the doghouse with the help of modern technology, Smith – CFO of US medical products firm Vante – filmed his own rant against a drive-thru clerk at an Arizona branch of fast-food joint Chick-Fil-A, and posted the clip on YouTube. While you may think his grievance might have had something to do with customer service, he actually set out to attack the firm’s well-documented conservative values and public backing of traditional marriage. Now, clearly, with its diversity angle you could argue that Smith’s antics had some sort of crusading point – but Vante didn’t see it that way. All they saw was their finance chief embarrassing their firm on the internet, and promptly issued a media statement giving him the elbow.


For further thoughts on bullying in the workplace, check out these resources at Management Direct (login required).

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