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As a baby boomer, I’ve noticed the conversation changing about what is and isn’t appropriate workplace behavior. Allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, toxic workplace and bullying are increasing. And I’ve witnessed pushback from those who think people are too darned sensitive.
Well, I’m pushing back on the sensitivity argument. I suggest we have engaged in (and discounted) problematic behaviors for far too long. In my career, I cringe to admit that I ignored situations that crossed the line. I encouraged other team members to let it go. I excused questionable behavior. I’ve realized I was wrong to do that.
Inappropriate behavior is at the least disrespectful and, at the most, criminal.
Also, the No. 1 frustration I hear from contractors is the skilled labor shortage. Why is that? Where are all the young people? Where is the diversity? Where are the women? Perhaps the labor problem isn’t them; it’s us. One of the ways we are repelling people from entering or staying in the industry is that we treat them poorly. It’s time to overcompensate for traditionally bad behavior, understanding that, while it may be unconscious or unintended, we must hold ourselves to higher standards.
Let’s begin with some definitions. Sexual harassment comes in two forms: hostile work environment and quid pro quo.
A hostile work environment happens when repetitive behavior creates an intimidating working environment for the victim:
Quid pro quo is any form of sexual harassment that involves an exchange of sexual activities for a benefit or prevention of a threat. The key factor here is that one person has seniority or power over the other. Examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment would be asking for sexual favors in exchange for:
Here are some disturbing statistics from Inspired eLearning (bit.ly/3O3OtwR):
The costs in suffering and trauma are beyond measure. In addition, according to a 2018 study by Deloitte Access Economics, workplace sexual harassment costs included in the model were $2.6 billion in lost productivity, or $1,053 on average per victim (bit.ly/3Em2hyx).
At an average weekly wage of $1,244 across the economy, each case of workplace sexual harassment represents approximately four working days of lost output. The largest loss of productivity — staff turnover, 32 percent of costs — results in lost income to individuals, lost profits to employers and reduced tax paid to local, state and federal governments. Significant losses also result from absenteeism (28 percent of costs) and manager time (24 percent of costs).
Discrimination and bullying
Other egregious workplace actions are worth defining, in addition to sexual harassment. Nonprofit organization Empower Work published an article defining discrimination and bullying (bit.ly/3Oa8Ubp).
To discriminate against someone means to treat that person differently, or less favorably, for some reason, such as race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information.
Bullying is when someone uses aggressive acts or comments meant to intimidate, humiliate, embarrass or degrade someone (or a group of people). It’s often repetitive through ongoing actions or a pattern of behavior:
While there are specific legal differences, my intention here is not to dive deep into technicalities. My intention is that we treat people better, and create respectful and safe work environments. In doing so, we can improve job satisfaction, performance and turnover rates.
Recently, our Zoom Drain team participated in sexual harassment training. Our human resources manager contracted with a company called Traliant. We individually participated in an online interactive video class, then met as a team to discuss.
Before the class, I was certain that I wasn’t going to learn anything new. I approached it with a “let’s get this over with” attitude. Well. I learned a lot. The videos took me through a series of harassing scenarios; it was painful to note that I had experienced or witnessed every one of those situations.
The class offered several responses to inappropriate behavior. Should you be involved in or witness offensive behavior, you could:
Most importantly, as an owner or manager, you are responsible for reporting harassment, bullying and discrimination. You can’t just deflect or support.
After we completed the video class, we met as a group to discuss what we’d learned. Each of us gained insights into our own behavior. One of our managers came to the very sound conclusion that partying with team members is a risky activity in many ways. Not only does drinking lead to poor decision-making, but your presence at the event also requires you to be responsible for the actions of the group.
We discussed how seemingly small missteps could create devastating results. Empires fall, careers are shattered and, most significantly, people can be hurt by thoughtless decisions and actions. And as a manager, you must report inappropriate behavior.
Now, this brings up a tricky problem. Most small companies don’t employ human resource personnel. The one to whom an employee might report the problem may well be the offender. If you are a small-shop owner, you may look at a fractional HR professional to support you and your team. Fractional is the buzzword for someone who works part-time for multiple companies, either as an employee or a subcontractor.
This is a cost-effective way for you to develop a human resources department. Or check with your payroll service provider. ADP and Paychex offer limited HR services.
Sometimes, legal action against the offender, or the company, is the proper course of action. Many HR violation cases can be resolved through mediation, training, apologies and restitution. Alas, as the statistics suggest, most cases go unreported, and offenders continue to abuse their employees.
For too long, we have justified poor behavior. “Locker room talk.” “Boys being boys.” Racist jokes. Even the unwanted hug. Since the class, I am now a recovering hugger. Not everyone likes hugging; it is best to keep our hands to ourselves.
I could whine about “snowflakes,” or I could be more thoughtful and respectful. Seems like an obvious choice.