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Lessons Organisations Can Learn from the Harry and Meghan Controversy

Why the organisation you choose to work for is one of the biggest health decisions you will ever make in your life.

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Last evening many watched as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a captivating interview with Oprah Winfrey. It must be noted from the outset that this was a one-sided interview where the interviewees had an opportunity to make comments and share their view of events without the audience having an opportunity to hear from the other side.

Nonetheless the interview was a ‘Whistle Blower’ moment and may have done damage to the Queen of England and the Monarchy. Through my work in the United Kingdom, I know just how much the Queen is loved, respected and trusted, so these allegations have already divided many. However, for this article I want to assess whether the interview allows us gauge in anyway whether Buckingham Palace is a Healthy Place to Work.  

At Healthy Place to Work we believe that the job, and organisation you choose to work for, is one of the biggest health decisions you will ever make in your life. 

If you choose a job and a role where you find perfect alignment it will be good for your health. In that case you will admire and trust the leadership, share the mission and the vision for what the organisation does and its ambition for the future. You will enjoy and flourish within its culture and be comfortable with its ways of working and, in particular, there will be a crossover between your personal values and the organisations values.

Alternatively, if you find yourself in an organisation where you despise the leadership and find the culture alien to your principles and beliefs, if the behaviours of most are inconsistent with your view of what is right and if you get no sense of purpose and meaning in the work you do, it will play out in extremely negative ways on your health, both mentally and physically

It is clear from the interview that Meghan Markle was not a perfect fit in the culture of Buckingham Palace, a place she called ‘the firm’. It is no surprise that when you realise you do not fit in, the first natural reaction is to leave. However, like many people in a similar position, she felt trapped, for some it is their financial commitments that keep them in place, for Meghan it was even more difficult.

This led Meghan to suicidal thoughts as she recalled” I just didn’t want to be alive anymore”. Organisation cultures and relationship breakdowns can have a truly devastating effect on people. It is truly terrible that someone would feel that way but the fact that she could not get help when she asked for it is unconscionable. Every organisation needs to have a release valve, a safe place where people can go for help and advice. Sometimes when a person is under intense pressure what might seem obvious to others as a correct course of action is hidden from them. An employee assistance programme (EAP) can be a really useful resource to support people through real life challenges. 

Some will say that Meghan should have known ‘the deal’ when marrying into the Royal family and that the events of Harry’s mother’s life should have highlighted the issues she would face. Meghan herself did claim to be naïve about not understanding what she was getting into. But the fact that there was no support for someone who was clearly struggling was something that the ‘institution’ that is the Royal family, will need to review and change quickly. It is essential that all organisations are upfront and real when communicating with would-be recruits about what it is actually like to work there, what the culture is like, what personalities normally survive and thrive in the environment. It is also important that a person considering a role in an organisation needs to do the research and find out if the organisation will reflect their personality and if others like them have found success.  

In the interview there were allegations about the prevalence of a culture of racism in Buckingham Palace. There is no room for racism in a Healthy Place to Work. Cultures need to be open and inclusive and accepting of difference no matter what history has taken place previously. We should all be part of driving an agenda of diversity and inclusion, the Royal Family are no different. However, if a person puts forward an allegation of this sort they should back it up with evidence. Racism exists in society and exists to a greater and lesser degree in organisations. Organisations need to be constantly checking perceptions of employees to see if any experience racism. If they find it, they need to respond and make very clear so that everybody understands that racism is simply unacceptable.   

According to Meghan Markle’s view there seemed also to be a culture of control and bullying at play in the Palace too. In some cases, it is really difficult to prove as people often bully in private and make sure not to leave any evidence. Bullying has no place in a Healthy Place to Work. 

Meghan herself faces allegations of bullying her staff in 2018. In a statement released recently the Palace says it “does not and will not tolerate bullying and harassment” and it has a clear dignity at work policy in place, “The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace” It is important that all allegations on both sides are investigated and the appropriate responses implemented. Bullying can be insidious but must be rooted out of any and every organisation.

While this is undoubtedly a very low point in the relationships between Meghan & Harry and the Royal household, relationships can be mended. I have seen it first-hand. In fact listening to Harry in particular speak about his huge respect, friendship and love for his grandmother, the Queen, it makes me hopefully that a way forward can be found. The Queen like many CEOs can often become disconnected from their organisation, does the Queen really know the reality on the ground, has she created a wall around herself that stops her truly understanding how everybody in her organisation feels.   

Many CEO’S in similar positions have been able to identify the real challenges faced by their people by implementing a confidential survey by a trusted independent organisation giving staff the opportunity to raise issues and not feel that they will be negatively affected if they do so. I’m not sure Buckingham Place will call us in but I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to help.

It is very sad to see the breakdown of relationships in such a public manner. I’m not writing this article in any way to take sides in this debate. For the record I have met Prince Charles and found him to be a very kind and friendly man. However, it is incumbent on the Royal family not to ‘go quiet’ on the issues raised but rather respond and deal with them forthrightly. They are so deeply admired throughout the world that their leadership on this issue will be critical and can set the tone for workplaces and indeed many family run businesses all over the world who find themselves dealing with similar issues. It is not easy to be a Healthy Place to Work and that is why many places are not, however the benefits are many and that is why so many are becoming so passionate about becoming a Healthy Place to Work today.

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