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Years ago, Joe, my father, and I did a column that started with having the readers imagining Aretha Franklin singing her great song. “Respect.” For those readers who have never heard the song or of Aretha Franklin, the refrain goes, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.”
The revelation was that respect is in the eyes of the receiver not the giver. Kind of an interesting concept that seems to baffle a lot of people. Here are some thoughts for your consideration.
Bullying and hazing are not rites of passage
In a past life, I encountered a verbal bully who was hazing some younger members of his team. I discussed my observations of the situation with the bully. The bully responded that the harassment was actually a rite of passage and that the bullied folks were earning their place on the team. He said by paying attention to new folks, it made them feel a sense of comradery and they, in fact, liked it. Fraternities and the military use similar tactics as a part of their onboarding process.
I could see that the bully might have sincerely believed that he was grooming, toughening, and training the younger members of the team. My observations and conversations indicated that the bullied individuals were fearful and very uncomfortable with the whole process. The bullying did stop but sadly not because the bully had seen the light. Instead, the bullying stopped because the bully was told to stop with a very direct promise of career bending consequences if the bullying continued. It was difficult to feel good about the resolution.
Bullying or hazing has been a part of our industry for, possibly, centuries. It may be an artifact left over from the trade or craft apprentice programs where people trained to be metal workers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc., as indentured apprentices under, what were sometimes, pretty bad conditions. For enduring long hours, bad food and poor lodging, as well as, years of mistreatment they might eventually exit the process with credentials to practice a trade. They then got their turn to mistreat the next generation of tradesmen propagating the bullying to one more generation.
Treat the customer techs with respect
Wholesaler employees are often in a position to bully trade customer techs. I have witnessed this phenomenon and am unsure of how it works but for some reason the techs feel like they must absorb the hazing offered up by wholesaler employees. While one might think the wholesaler’s team would want to treat customers well, they instead mistreat them…for sport. Wholesaler managers need to be sensitive to this potential situation and not allow - it both as a proper way of doing business and because it’s just the right thing to do.
Sexual misconduct is not someone else’s problem
The recent revelations out of Hollywood, Government, and Big Business regarding sexual misconduct and bullying should be a wakeup call for our industry, as well. Some readers might be smugly thinking, “That’s in Hollywood. That’s in Washington. That’s in other industries. That’s not in our industry.”
Think again. Our industry has problems in this area just like other industries. More problems or less problems? I don’t know. Make no mistake our team has encountered problems at events in our industry with members of our industry exercising the “different area code” excuse for inappropriate conduct. That’s one version of it, but there are lots of people who bring inappropriate conduct with them to work every day. As I talk to people, I have heard about problems that others have had in our industry.
More women are entering our industry
Our industry is welcoming more women, as family and non-family members alike earn promotions in companies. More women are entering supply chain programs in college, and more women join the trades. There are more opportunities now than there have been in the past.
We, at Schmitt ProfiTools Inc., know that most of our management team and employees are women. When we send members of our team out on trips, we discuss how we expect them to act, but even more importantly how we want them to protect themselves. It is so easy to get comfortable and forget that there are bad people out there, so we explicitly remind our team to be careful every time they travel.
Talk to your labor attorney
I am not a labor attorney, so I recommend that you involve one as you make changes and rules in this area. I do think that companies need to create policies covering the conduct of their team and provide a way to report problems related to bullying of any kind. I do think proper behavior needs to be described so everyone is clear about what is appropriate behavior and what is inappropriate behavior.
No, recipients of inappropriate sexual advances do not feel flattered by the attention
To be fair, just like that first bully, there are probably some knuckleheads who, stupidly, think their inappropriate behavior is flattering to the women they approach. Let’s set the record straight. In a quick, unscientific poll of women, the word “flattered” did not come up when describing what it felt like to them. “Disrespected,” “mauled,” “groped,” “violated,” and “molested” did come up.
People do not like being bullied
Disrespecting subordinates or customers is bullying. If you can get them to be honest with you, they will not use the word “fun” to describe what it means to them.
Appropriate behavior is a lot like what you learned in kindergarten
Stay in line. Keep your hands and other parts of your body to yourself. If you want to do something, raise your hand and ask permission. You can probably dispense with the hand-raising but NOT the permission-asking.
Different area code and alcohol are not excuses
Being in a different area code and/or excessive alcohol do not, in any way, shape or form, excuse inappropriate behavior. The fact that some people feel vindicated by the area code or don’t remember what they did, does not mitigate the harm that they are doing. They are bullies. For the record, a handshake or even a hug does NOT give you permission. I wish I were kidding.
As a boss, you must be even more careful
If you are a boss and you are romantically involved with a subordinate, you are asking for problems. In small, closely-held companies, this can happen innocently. Even with that said, you are asking for problems.
Asking someone to do their job is not bullying
One of the dangers in all this is that some supervisors will back away from their duty to monitor their team’s performance, to coach their team and, as necessary, to reprimand their non-performing team members. Being coached or reprimanded can make some feel disrespected, so your labor attorney can help to establish the process for doing these things properly.
Bullying and inappropriate sexual behavior are very difficult, uncomfortable topics that people all over the country are struggling with. Our industry is no different. Of all the women I have spoken to in our industry, many had experiences but none reported them. Sadly, it didn’t even occur to many of them to report their incident, as it has become so commonplace. As an industry, we often lag behind the world in the adoption of new policies. In this area, we must not lag.