Microsoft Buys Activision Blizzard, Gets “Sexist Workplace Culture” Free

"constant" sexual harassment, withholding promotions from women alleged at game publisher

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The sex-based misconduct at Activision Blizzard is infamous in the game industry. From drunken harassment to refusing promotions based on future pregnancy, claims against the company read like an episode of Mad Men. How can Microsoft turn that office culture around?

Female coders working together at work
Well-documented research shows that companies thrive as their employees experience a healthy, productive culture in the workplace. Photo by BalanceFormCreative / Shutterstock

Microsoft announced on January 18 that it would be acquiring Activision Blizzard, the publisher of video game franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, for $68.7 billion. Despite releasing two of the biggest game series on Earth, the publisher is, to say the least, a fixer-upper. A string of lawsuits as detailed in Forbes alleges a workplace culture that actively discriminates against women, even leading to one employee’s death.

According to the suits, the company hosted “cube crawls,” in which male employees would get drunk and stumble between female colleagues’ cubicles, sexually harassing them. A sexual picture of a female employee was supposedly passed around at a company holiday party; she later committed suicide.

Microsoft has pledged to change the culture. In her video series How to Build a Thriving Workplace: A Leader’s Guide, Dr. Beth Cabrera, Senior Scholar at the Center for the Achievement of Well-Being at George Mason University, explains how a thriving workplace begins with proper leadership.

This Mess We’re In

“Leadership sets the tone for almost everything in the work environment, including well-being,” Dr. Cabrera said. “Too often, employee wellness programs are relegated to the HR department or maybe a subcommittee somewhere within the organization. If you are seeking a workplace that thrives, that is the wrong approach: A thriving workplace starts with a thriving leader.”

Dr. Cabrera said that when a leader thrives, they have more energy, creativity, and resilience, which they should then use to serve their team. She likened it to being in a plane and putting on your own oxygen mask before your children’s. Once the leader of a work environment feels as though they’re thriving, the positive attitude and energy can brighten the future of an entire office.

Sometimes, it can be sorely needed.

“Heavy workloads, long hours, tight deadlines, a lack of control, a lack of meaning, and incivility can all have a negative impact on factors related to well-being,” Dr. Cabrera said. “Research shows that almost 40% of employees suffer from stress at work. In one survey, 7% of people reported being hospitalized because of workplace stress.”

Hostile work environments, whether they’re borne of tyrannical leaders or discriminatory office cultures, are worth investigating and fixing. According to Dr. Cabrera, disengagement in employees costs the U.S. economy half a trillion dollars per year. Productivity, retention, and health care costs also diverge depending on employee well-being. Researchers have found that thriving blue-collar employees perform 27% better than their disengaged counterparts, were 32% more committed, 72% more satisfied with their jobs, and experienced 1.25 times less burnout.

“Companies are beginning to recognize that focusing on employee well-being can be a smart financial move,” she said. “Research shows a clear link between businesses that invest in employees’ well-being and the bottom line. One study revealed that revenues for companies listed among Forbes‘s “100 Best Companies to Work For” increased by an average of 22% in one year.”

Some researchers have even created centers that focus on applying the science of well-being in the workplace. Dr. Cabrera cited groups at the University of Michigan and the University of Nebraska who do so.

Microsoft may want to take notice.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily