The Try Guys Try Responsible Leadership in the Workplace

In September, social media was ablaze and the Try Guys were trending. However, this time it was not simply because of an upload – it was a lot more serious.

The Try Guys are an entertainment group that regularly post content on YouTube and other social media sites. The internet quartet, now trio, known for their wholesome and non-offending content, have found themselves in a media frenzy.

Pictures were circulating social media showing Ned Fulmer, then-part owner and self-proclaimed ‘wife guy’ of the Try Guys, cheating on his wife with an employee.

Ned quickly released a statement admitting to the “consensual workplace relationship” and stated that he will be focusing on his marriage. On the same day, the Try Guys released their own statement announcing that Ned is “no longer working with the Try Guys” after an internal review.

In Ned’s statement, the use of the term ‘consensual workplace relationship’ is incredibly important. It is as unambiguous as you can get in describing the relationship between the pair. Ethically and potentially legally, it had to be used to negate certain assumptions that Ned used his position of power in a sinister way.

In the US, workplace relationships are not unlawful in and amongst themselves. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law that governs sexual harassment in the workplace. Consensual workplace relationships do not infringe upon this law. However, certain behaviours may cross the ethical line, including a relationship between a subordinate and their direct supervisor.

The other three Try Guys and part owners launched an internal review immediately and consulted with HR experts swiftly after learning of the relationship. This makes it clear how they view this employer/employee relationship.

In their response video, the trio stated: “(we are) acutely aware of just how contrary [the relationship] was to the values of the company we’ve built and those of everyone who works here.”

It is abundantly clear that they considered this relationship unacceptable and that action needed to be taken.

Now, if the relationship between a boss and their employee is consensual, what problems can there be? Any sort of power imbalance in a relationship is problematic but especially within the context of the workplace, it can lead to many issues.

The power imbalance within the relationship may leave the employee feeling vulnerable to job insecurity if they do not behave a certain way or the relationship starts to break down. There is also the risk of possible coercion as to how the relationship began in the first place.

Another ethical consideration is that a relationship can open up space for other employees to claim feelings of unfair treatment. Potential conflicts of interest can arise between personal and professional priorities, whether that be promotions or more career opportunities.

Now that the media storm has quietened down to an extent, it has caused a period of reflection. In a post-#MeToo world, the sensitivity surrounding power imbalances in workplace relationships can be one of contention. Many companies are unwilling to take the risk in allowing these relationships due to possible legal repercussions later down the line.

We do not know the minute details of Ned and the employee’s relationship. We can hope that the relationship came about by mutual attraction without a hint of coercion or other sinister means.

If Ned’s statement is anything to go by, it is likely to have been a consensual relationship. It is, however, a bitter pill to swallow considering that, at the heart of the issue, a powerful man with every resource at his fingertips with a company that he part owns engaged in a relationship with his female employee.

Ned had an obligation to set professional boundaries in the workplace as both part-owner and HR representative. By overstepping these boundaries, not only did he put the employee in a difficult position, but also the company as a whole.

By their own admission, the Try Guys have lost a substantial amount of earnings and opportunities. They have lost content that they will never be able to share. Not only that, they have also lost a business partner and a friend. However, despite all this, they made the informed decision to make their employees the priority.

The Try Guys demonstrated full transparency with their response video. They addressed all the aspects that they could publicly talk about in relation to Ned’s removal. This included the internal process of making their decision and their clear stance as a company in relation to the incident.

The responsible leadership they have executed is refreshing to see but is also the bare minimum in how a company should respond to such instances. Workplace relationships are often inevitable. However, it is up to the employers to put procedures and ethical boundaries in place to prevent risk and harm to their employees.

Amber Markwell is an MA English Studies student from Ipswich. Her particular interests include 21st century feminism, the impact of literature on popular culture and film, and stigmas surrounding mental health. She is also a big fan of the Brontës and Star Wars. Find her on Instagram: @amber.markwell

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