Bill O'ReillyWe’ve written about sexual harassment before – there’s no secret there.  But I would like to examine the economic benefits and costs associated with harassment today.  This examination is prompted by Bill O’Reilly’s firing by Fox after it was revealed that five women had been paid $13.5 million to be silent about being harassed by O’Reilly.

To be fair, Bill O’Reilly denies all the charges of harassment.


Why pay $13.5 million if the charges are false?

I mean, $13.5 million is a real pot of money.

And if the first charge was false, why didn’t O’Reilly put in placed a system to prevent anyone else from charging him with harassment?

Or after the second or third?

I am left with one of two choices:

  1. O’Reilly was guilty and paying hush money.
  2. O’Reilly wasn’t capable of learning from his experiences.

Now, O’Reilly insists that he is a very smart man – so, the second explanation is negated by O’Reilly himself.

So, I am left with the first explanation and now must justify why paying $13.5 million makes sense.

I will start with my recent visit to Home Depot.  I visit Home Depot frequently because of home improvement projects and to get woodworking supplies.  I always show my military ID when checking out because I get a 10% discount as a veteran.

Why does Home Depot (and Lowes) give a 10% military discount?  It’s to honor those who served their country – and veterans appreciate being appreciated.  But it’s not necessarily a sacrifice for Home Depot.  Yes, they lose 10% on each purchase but it also generates a loyalty – you tend to buy from the lowest price provider if everything else is equal – Lowes is across the street and mostly carries the same brands of woodworking supplies and home improvement products – a consequence of the industry consolidation.  Just this morning, I bought $21 of sandpaper and a magnetic latch – and it was my third visit in the last week.  Add it up over a ten-year period and the sum I’ve spent at Home Depot is in the thousands.  And Home Depot is very happy to exchange that 10% military discount for my continuing business.

It makes economic sense to offer a discount for more business.  You could say it’s just the cost of doing business.

So, it was with Fox.  Bill O’Reilly was the money machine for Fox – bringing in the advertisers with their money.  If paying hush money was required then that was just the cost of doing business.

But, everything is eventually brought into the open and so it was with Bill O’Reilly.  The revelation of the harassment payments led to the bleeding of advertisers that doomed O’Reilly.  Fox tolerated the harassment and the payments if they were making money.  When the money flow was affected, then something had to be done.

This illustrates a principal driver of organization behavior.  It is the rare organization that is driven by moral principles.  Most organizations are driven by money – in the words of Philip Crosby, “Making money and not losing money.”  If you want to change organizational behavior, you must affect their cash flow and its close relative, for public companies, the stock price.

It is a sad fact that harassment in the workplace will continue – and be hushed up – as long as money is being made.  Only the thousands of individual choices that choose morals over money by denying money to those that still live in the past where harassment was accepted can change the situation.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.