Culture | Lord of the Rings firm at centre of 'toxic' work scandal

Lord of the Rings firm at centre of 'toxic' work scandal

Toxic workplaces are something many HR leaders have had to face, often due to claims of bullying among colleagues or sexual harassment.

One organisation that has launched an independent investigation following allegations of a toxic culture is Weta Digital, the special effects firm that was co-founded by Lord of the Rings trilogy Director, Peter Jackson.

Claims of sexism, bullying and pornography being shared on the company’s intranet have been raised. As a result, an investigation has been ordered by the firm’s majority owners, including Jackson, his wife Fran Welsh and screenwriter Phillipa Boyens, reported the Guardian.

This follows a month-long investigation by local television station TVNZ, which found that complaints had been ignored by senior management and long-standing issues raised by employees had been covered up.

‘Porn Friday’

In addition to the claims of sexism, bullying and harassment, allegations of ‘pornographic mailing lists’ have also risen. It’s alleged that these were hosted on Weta Digital’s intranet, in addition to staff openly viewing pornography in the studio. These mailing lists are said to have existed from 2002 to 2015, when they were closed.

One employee also told TVNZ that every Friday employees would send porn images around to teams. They said: “There was a tradition at the time called Porn Friday. Every Friday staff members would email round porn images to the whole team.

“The first Friday I worked there I was so surprised, intimidated and uncomfortable. You could opt out of receiving them, which I did. But there were still conversations amongst the team in my office every Friday about what images were sent round.”

Claims also suggested that employees chose not to complain about the activities as the business is known as a world leader in the special effects industry and therefore feared being blacklisted.

A spokesperson for the company told 1News: “As soon as it was brought to management’s attention, immediate steps were taken to stop this activity. We regret this happened and apologise for any distress it has caused.”

The company also added: “There is no room for inappropriate behaviour of any kind within the company. If crew members feel uncomfortable for any reason, we want to hear about it. All concerns are taken very seriously.”

The impact of toxic cultures

Weta Digital isn’t alone in claims of a toxic workplace; former employees on The Ellen DeGeneres Show previously claimed to BuzzFeed news that they experienced fear, racism and intimidation behind the scenes of the show.

Research has also shown the huge impact a toxic culture can have on a business and its staff. For example, Breathe’s Culture Economy 2020 report found that one in five Brits quit their job due to toxic workplace culture. Similarly, the same research discovered that a negative culture can cost up to £15.7billion per year.

With these figures in mind, HR leaders should work to stamp out any toxicity among teams by encouraging open communication, as well as anonymous methods for team members to speak up, while also making clear what the repercussions would be for perpetrators.

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