Aug 3, 2021 - Technology

Activision Blizzard employees say HR department failed them

Illustration of a woman facing a single door that reads "human resources"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Following a lawsuit filed by California against Activision Blizzard, allegations of harassment, misconduct, and assault continue to emerge from people who point to the company's HR department as being part of the larger problem.

Why it matters: Sources say the company's culture favors a clan mentality and functioned under a broken HR department that undermined and discounted victims' experiences, and did not protect their identities.

  • According to a dozen current and former Activision Blizzard employees, several requesting anonymity to speak freely, harassment and misconduct were well-known and well-documented despite the company saying the allegations are "incorrect, old, and out of context."
  • Not only did Activision Blizzard fail to protect those in harm's way, it actively shielded abusers from punitive action, sources tell Axios.
  • People have been cautioned against filing a report or attempting to take action against harassers or bad actors, one current employee says. "They say things like, 'This isn't a fight you want to fight.'"

In a comment to Axios, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the company takes "every allegation seriously and will investigate all claims."

  • "We will not tolerate anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences. If employees have any concerns about how Human Resources handled claims, we have other reporting options, including anonymous ones."

Driving the news: Blizzard announced today that president J. Allen Brack is stepping down two weeks after being named in the lawsuit.

  • Jesse Meschuk, Blizzard’s SVP of Global Human Resources for Activision Blizzard is no longer with the company, a spokesperson confirmed to Axios today. Meschuk joined Blizzard in 2009 and worked as the company’s head of HR until January of this year.

Details: Four current and former employees of Activision Blizzard described to Axios direct interactions with HR during the past decade in which they said representatives bullied, belittled, or showed skepticism after being informed of alleged harassment or assault.

  • Employees who have gone to HR with complaints say the department had a reputation for doing nothing.
  • A former employee, whose harassment came directly from their boss, tells Axios they felt they had no tools to resolve their problem. "Even if [Blizzard wants] to take it seriously, I'm not even sure what we would do," the source said.

In one case, Nicki Broderick, a former Blizzard employee employed from 2012-2019, approached HR several times with complaints about inappropriate or retaliatory behavior.

  • In one instance, Broderick and a manager got into a heated argument during which "he stood over me at my desk and wouldn't let me leave, wouldn't let me reach for my phone," she tells Axios.
  • Broderick says when she reported the incident to HR, she was told that "it's not harassment. He didn't touch you."
  • In a comment to Axios, the company spokesperson said "such conduct is abhorrent and will not be tolerated. We appreciate the courage of any current or former employee in coming forward and will fully investigate any such claims brought to our attention."

"He was untouchable," Broderick says of the manager, who was later promoted and remains employed at Activision Blizzard in a senior position.

  • She describes her career growth as "stunted" after going to HR, noting, "I wasn't given any new projects. I wasn't considered for promotion three years after that incident."
  • Broderick recalls another instance where an HR rep told her she was "acting like a brat," she tells Axios, adding she was told to "suck it up" and return to her desk.

Another current employee with the company for over five years tells Axios that after she was physically assaulted by one employee, her report to HR was met with instant skepticism.

  • "One of the things [the HR rep] commented on was that she was surprised I wasn't crying or I wasn't more hysterical."
  • Furthermore, the source says, there were no measures put in place to protect her at work. Instead, Blizzard encouraged her to work from home or switch departments, a move she says felt more like punishment.
  • When she spoke to HR again, however, a representative told her, "He's really sorry and he really wants to work at Blizzard. And he says that you were really friendly with him."

Behind the scenes: Sources tell Axios part of the problem with Activision Blizzard's HR department was a seemingly high turnover rate. On some teams, representatives could be gone in as little as a few months, and some representatives seemed spread too thin, sources say.

  • For employees, it was unclear why their representatives changed so often, whether it was due to transfers, new jobs, firings, or burnout.
  • This made reporting in some cases difficult, as new representatives would come in without the overall context of the company's culture. "We never had someone consistent to talk to," Broderick says.

The process was also confusing and lacked transparency around next steps or actionable resolutions, according to some current and former employees who voiced concerns over the broader management style there.

  • Former Blizzard employee Andrew Buczacki says going to management with complaints had "a surprising lack of paper trail," or any transparency at all. "You're just sort of saying these things out into the void," he tells Axios.
  • That put the onus on employees to keep their own paper trail. If not, he says, "it just sort of turns into this verbal agreement. And then that can just be a piece of leverage or plausible deniability from Blizzard administration and management."
  • Even filing a report was "a double-edged sword," one former employee tells Axios, because "they were going to tell everybody about what you said. Nothing you said was private with HR."

The big picture: Activision Blizzard's HR department and its handling of harassment incidents is reflective of a larger company culture with a pervasive drinking culture, an all-boys club mentality, and a lack of consequences for alleged harassers, sources say.

  • For some employees, they said harassment has hidden under a familiar cover: It's just a joke.
  • A former employee says that there is a culture for men on staff where "guys being shitheads to other guys" is normal. "You're just supposed to just take it and can dish it back as well," he tells Axios.

Previous reports described Blizzard as being built on a foundation of largely male, white employees where it was a point of pride to have “a work environment that was thankfully more like a frat house than a business.”

  • Because of Blizzard's success, there is a pervasive sense for employees that it's a privilege to work there, sources tell Axios.
  • "I felt like in order for me to survive in this situation, because I wanted to work there long term, I [had] to go along with it," one former Activision Blizzard employee tells Axios of inappropriate behavior they experienced.

What's next: As one Activision Blizzard employee tells Axios, the time for apologies is past. Instead, they say, steps must be taken to unveil, remove, and reject abusers from the industry entirely to prevent them from resuming destructive behavior elsewhere.

  • "It doesn't matter how creative and intelligent and brilliant someone is," the employee says. "Stand by your morals, stand by the company values, and get them out, because it's not worth it."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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