Most of us work in some sort of office environment. It might be a 10-person restaurant or a 1,000-person financial institution, but the vast majority of people have to deal with coworkers, bosses, and office politics. If we’re lucky, most of those interactions will be positive or even neutral.
A few will be negative. But if the whole environment feels toxic, and if every single conversations feels exhausting and demoralizing, then there’s a problem, and it probably has something to do with the way the office is run. Problems at the top can easily trickle down and infect even the most junior employees.
The reverberations from the 2016 presidential election are still being felt, and one of the biggest has been the ever-evolving way we treat issues like sexual assault, sexual harassment, and just plain sexual misconduct. Things that were covered up for years are now being exposed for all the world to see, often in highly-detailed, thoroughly-researched news reports.
The movement has not been without conflict, especially when women try to bring up issues of consent only to be told, “Well, that’s not a crime, is it?” Generally speaking, your goal should be doing better than “Not technically a crime.” That’s true at both home and the office. Employees should be encouraged to speak out if they experience or witness misconduct. People are afraid afraid to say anything because “I don’t want to ruin anybody’s life” or “It probably wasn’t a big deal.” That’s the kind of environment that allows abuse and misconduct to fester.
Offices looking for a starting point to talk about all these complicated issues should look into sexual harassment preventative courses. Those courses cover a broad range of topics and behaviors, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all of the sexual harassment discussion. Open dialogue is critical to moving forward and healing the wounds of the past. Encourage people to come forward, even if they aren’t sure if they have a reportable offense.
The employee who is slapping women on the butt today could be testing the waters and seeing what he can get away with before he ramps things up in a bad way. It’s always better to deal with issues like that before they become criminal. Trying to prevent an escalation in bad behavior is always a better choice than ignoring issues and then realizing your office has a serial sexual predator roaming the cubicles. An employee shouldn’t have to hire a sexual harassment lawyer to make the people in power pay attention.
Sexual misconduct has been getting the lion’s share of attention lately, because there’s so much bad behavior to call out and try to correct. But there are other forms of harassment that aren’t usually sexual in nature. Racism is still a big concern, even in the year 2018, and even in offices that like to consider themselves progressive, diverse workplaces. Remarks about things like weight and appearance also have no place in the workplace. That can’t be tolerated.
Managers and supervisors must send that message loud and clear, and repeat it as often and necessary. Not every bully will get the message, and if they don’t, they should be summarily dismissed with cause. A second chance is one thing, but an eighth, ninth, or tenth chance is beyond the pale.