top of page
  • Writer's pictureVigor Media

High School, Inc.: Four Ways Drama Infects the Workplace

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Looking back at my years in High School not only generates great memories, but even today I could still walk those hallways and easily identify my locker, where I hung out with friends after school, and even the aroma of a forgotten gym uniform accidentally left in a locker over a long weekend...but I digress…

I do really miss those days and besides the gym uniform, there is one other common emblematic occurrence I could have done without...fresh daily high school gossip. Unfortunately, gossip isn’t necessarily one of those things that grow up after graduation. Well, it grows, but I would categorize it more like a festering that can permeate and infect even the grownest of grown-ups. I call it “High School, Inc.”.

Corporate bullies, creating/forming silos, incorrect interpretations of the realities of others, and talking out of school are four signs that a company has been infected by "High School, Inc." and if not addressed by leadership it could lead to an unhealthy workplace and even its demise. Let’s take these one at a time and while you might create relatability, there is hope:


"Tactical Corporate Bully Syndrome" begins when one employee creates influence over others by means of false rumors pertaining to a third party that leads to the unintentional collaboration of a group to force managerial review or removal of another. If more than one employee is backing the rumor, even without formidable evidence to support such claims, then it must be true. Guilty until proven innocent, right? 

There is strong empirical evidence that depicts the adult bully as harboring pervasive psychopathological tendencies such as narcissism and intent to use abusive, controlling, callous, manipulative, domineering, coercive, and self-centered behaviors to create chaos. This is an ambiguous mind lurking in the shadows and when coupled with a personal agenda and potential gain it can lead to inappropriate behavior and strategic deception.

This approach can also be harnessed by one employee who then affects other employees, or separate groups of employees, on the premise of future gains that further fuels the belief in the fabrication about the targeted victim with the primary intent to improve the originator's corporate title or monetary status. The more voices the originator of the drama can influence on false hope to drive their agenda, the more momentum they begin to harness to bring a forged concern to management as actual reality. The fact is, many of these employees follow the initial drama band leader based on the fear they may be targeted too.

As the voices gain momentum, the originator then works to infuse management creating the establishment of doubt and concern of the targeted with corporate leadership. As more and more voices begin to support the rumor, management and human resources begin to weigh the gossip itself without searching for actual evidence to support such claims due to the sheer amount of voices protesting the drama as truth.  

The questions that management and HR ask themselves... “Do we question the larger group or the single source in which the group has stated their complaint?”; “If this continues, how much time will be lost on sales and initiatives?”; “If we don’t remove and punish the group, or vice versa, what message are we sending to the company as a whole and how will it affect the workplace?”; “What direction of legal ramification is more expensive?”

Imagine the scenario had been a group of students on a playground teasing a single student, the thought process of a school administrator and HR manager is the same: “Is it better to address the group as a whole at the time of conflict or remove the targeted student to distract the group toward a new game or activity?”; “If this continues, how much learning can actually take place?”; “If there are no consequences for the behavior, what message are we sending to other students?”; and, even in high school, “What is the risk of litigation?” In the wake of quick responses, poor leadership typically chooses to act on the rumors believing its the best for the company and its safest legal standing position, hence, in the end, awarding the originator for its "High School, Inc." behavior.

Unfortunately, some managers typically believe the best action is a quick response to resolve the situation before it escalates further. How would you handle?


When an agenda is in place to advance the individual and not the company as a whole, siloed divisions begin to form and the establishment of political roadblocks between important departments, i.e. marketing, sales, leadership, technology, and operations, even executive offices begin to stall or generate poorly executed initiatives.

Looking for solutions to tear down the silos and create cross-division collaboration is a benefit that spills over from one achieved objective to another. One cannot succeed or reach their goals without surrounding themselves with creative and brilliant minds from all sources.   

Even the current movement for companies and organizations to express a commitment to diversity and inclusion has begun to create missed opportunities and divided silos when perceived as an initiative solely surrounding race and gender. Forgetting that the real benefit from the movement leads to an amazing collaboration of different views, backgrounds, and experiences that can solve challenges to move a company forward.

Ultimately, it's a collaboration between divisions that creates the power of the entire company to achieve a single common goal; harnessed energy from many to bring an entire group of individuals to prosperity as one rising tide. This is the essence of great minds coming together that makes a company and its purpose flourish. After all, Frank Lloyd Wright, architectural genius and innovator of “Organic Architecture”, would have never executed on vision without the collaboration of his team; who, as it turns out, left him because of low wages and servitude type conditions. Not surprisingly, many of his designs didn't become reality thereafter without the backbone to what made it all really possible, his team. 

But, what if this was the opposite and each division working in harmony with a dedicated overall purpose and goal while supporting the individuality that makes each division an essential piece? How successful would a High School Homecoming be if departmental silos focused on their own dedicated agendas without considering the contributions from all the other departments that are needed to run a successful event? For example, if the Homecoming court, football game, and the dance were managed in their own silo, imagine the discord. The dance might happen before the game because the teacher in charge of the dance was not free to chaperone after the game. What if the Homecoming court wasn’t elected until December, because the committee in charge decided that made more sense (for whatever reason). You get the picture... The entire day wouldn’t be successful without the coordination of multiple departments including athletics (all homecoming games), art (Event Decor), Marching Band (music dept.), and Setup and Promotions (Facility) to just name a few. Success not only includes, but demands, that multiple departments work in tandem to ultimately achieve positive production surrounding this one major project. 

The power of great leadership is not only allowing both the creativity and purpose of each division but also bringing together great and diverse minds knowing their part plays a major role. The point remains, without positive collaboration the overall objective cannot be accomplished in a silo.  

How are you working to motivate individual department importance while promoting a melting pot of great ideas and diverse thoughts to reach the goals of common corporate initiatives?


Lee Atwater thinks so, anyway. It’s an interesting quote formulated by a politician where smoke and mirrors are the basis of every platform to forward each crafted agenda. Interesting that this same quote has become the premise of sales training sessions and meetings. Growing and festering in the corporate realm, it produces another unjustified approach of what someone might think is the reality but it isn't--and actually never was.

In business, this is dangerous and also a manipulation tactic to control others by creating a false reality and then approaching the individual perceived in the perception that they must work on changing the perception when in fact it never was an issue or reality in the first place. Yes, I know! If this resembles an Abbott and Castello, "Who's on First?" narration then you feel my pain. This concept creates a groundwork for drama and false acquisitions that also becomes unjustified feedback and purpose to poor mentorship as a leader or manager in the workplace.

- Lee Atwater

Clearly, it takes a strong and thoughtful manager to be able to sort through the general perception of an issue and determine its reality. It becomes largely important to remember that perception is relative and even your own perception isn't reality but merely your own world-view which impacts the "Real" world that surrounds us. Removing the drama does wonders in unveiling the truth. How have you experienced a narrow perspective and how has it affected you or your team?


Leaving the best (yet worst) for last. This I will keep short and sweet, as a famous motivational quote drives home a very simple point, "Those that talk about you behind your back to others are only threatened by you!"

When in leadership, especially driving sales, a known approach to creating higher value is leaving the discussion about the competition at the door. Presenting to a prospective or current client how you are leading the industry by value and the solutions you provide to their problems always carries a higher value over selling against any competition. Once you discuss or verbally slam competition, you are no longer leading but chasing your value.

But the most irresponsible and unprofessional defamation action is not just talking poorly about competition, it's the discussion of internal strife with clients. Either the scenario of past account representative replacement or overlapping sales territory, either way, discussing opinions about other employees to clients (true or not) says as much about the company and not just the individual throwing the stones.

As with all the scenarios discussed in this article, it is important for leadership to take the right steps to build a strong culture of respect but also expect employees to take self-responsibility. You cannot avoid all scenarios of drama that might grace the workplace but it's how it's managed and addressed that in the end could determine the fate of any organization.

Always remember, if they are talking about someone's personal or professional business, they are definitely talking about yours.  


As common as the above “infections” may be in the workplace, there are many places that get it right. And when I say, “get it right”, I mean they find a balance between listening and acting; competing and partnering; customer service and policy and procedures. The above issues illustrate that negative motives and a lack of collaboration can be pure poison. However, companies that define and create a culture of collaboration and healthy competition through respect and teamwork continually lead to the overall prosperity of the company, its employees, but most importantly an improved experience for its customers. The employees can now create a healthy environment that will improve the business as it will draw in customers rather than deflect them.

Because, let’s face it, customers today make purchasing and business partnership decisions not only on customer service and price but on safety, which can be perceived as how the company functions externally but also internally. External reflection creates a greater impact when employees begin to gossip to customers beyond its competition but on its internal culture, people, and leadership. In the end, it ultimately affects current sales and future business.  

Employees, even a manager or executive, might not always agree with the direction of a company, individual, or a new initiative, but it’s how you voice your position professionally and through example without rocking or tipping the entire boat into a direction of “High School, Inc.”.   

How would you (or have you) handle these types of infections if you are, or would be, in a management position? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Published by Vigor Media  | Contributor / Editor: Katherine Stetz | Date: November 5, 2019 

©2019 Vigor Media, LLC | All Rights Reserved

4 views0 comments


bottom of page