In the summer holidays, I went away to peaceful Pittwater and stayed in lodge surrounded by spotted gums, wallabies and the occasional lyre bird and snake. I swam, kayaked and read in a hammock looking out at a frangipani tree. I didn’t read the newspaper, having time for an “internet detox”.
I came back on 11 January and got straight back into The Sydney Morning Herald. I read words to the effect of “The Queen has been blind-sided by Harry and Meghan’s announcement that they will leave England and live part-time in Canada.” What? Did I really read that? Yes, I did.
What is the Harry and Meghan story really about? On one level, it’s a workplace issue. They were on the payroll of “the firm”, the royal family, headed by the Queen. They were “working royals”. They went to numerous public events representing the royal family. It was basically a family business but one with public funding. But they found the gig too onerous in a number of ways. Particularly how the press had a field day with them. All of the time.
So what did they do? They decided to resign. Just like that. And to live in Canada. But of course this was super-tricky. The “firm” they worked for was also family, the two were inextricably linked. They couldn’t just resign. So there’s the rub.
Harry and Meghan chose to resign by announcing it to the public. Not by telling the Queen, their “boss”. Who resigns from a job by just telling the public and not their boss? In this case, the boss was also grandma. So here’s the question: did they think they would get a tactical advantage in subsequent negotiations by announcing it this way? And did they get an advantage in reality?
No, I don’t think they got an advantage by this. It meant that the subsequent negotiations had to be done urgently, and with the pressure of the public waiting for a result. It meant that the Queen and other family members were annoyed and hurt. It also meant that the Sussexes’ real concerns could not be explored and unpacked so well. If there had been no such urgency and pressure, their concerns could have been explored in way that could have led to another solution. A solution that would have been informed by several opinions and insights, of members of the royal family, which could have been broader by the Sussexes own insights. For one, the Queen had the wisdom of 60+ years on the throne and she might have assisted them with a more creative solution. And she knows, as many of us do, that a royal living in exile is not a happy situation – think the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Edward and Mrs Simpson) and their shallow life of parties in Paris.
If there had been time, Harry and Meghan’s fears and wishes could have explored: for example, their fear of the media, which is deep-seated as Harry’s mother Princess Diana has been said to have been killed as a result of the media’s intrusiveness. Remember that funeral, everyone?
Also, they no doubt had a fear of others judging Meghan’s ways: for example her apparent demands on her staff as she rose early to practice yoga and her breaking of royal protocol by not showing off her new born baby from the steps of the hospital.
The Sussexes had a wish for less media intrusiveness. They had a wish for living their family life their own way, whilst still being royals. They also had a wish for a quieter life.
Theses wishes and fears could have been explored and a solution uncovered that could have accommodated Harry’s no doubt hidden concern to remain in his dear England and to be united with his family.
Harry and Meghan wanted to be “part time” royals. But the deal they got was Not royals at all. No titles. No public money. No “dip your toe in” when you feel like it. No more military appointments for Harry at all, despite his accomplished career, having gone to Afghanistan and all that.
What are the lessons from “Megxit” for workplace mediation?
Harry and Meghan’s situation is like announcing outside your employer organisation that you are going to leave and then asking for a part-time job. Once a person announces they will leave the workplace, it is difficult for them to negotiate a deal to stay in. Something is broken. People are put off-side. To ask for something other than what the job description was in the first place requires people to be on-side and accommodating. Once they are off-side, why would they bend over backwards to give the person what they want?
If a person wants a new job arrangement, they are best to start gently with their negotiations. They could have a mediation to allow them to voice their concerns and wishes. Their managers could raise their concerns and wishes also. Together, all parties could explore a creative solution that could preserve the workplace relationship. And if it’s a family business, a solution that heals and preserves family relationships as well.