Nip it now: Workplace harassment

LeeAnn Bailes Foster

Team Foster’s Vision
Imagine this!

It’s 2045. Our granddaughter began her career at Team Foster HR Strategy 3 years ago. Our daughter, Laura, is now the Head Coach of the $1,000,000,000.00 company. There are 149 employees. I met our granddaughter for lunch. She is doing training for several clients in the Southeast. I asked her what the company’s Workplace Harassment Training was comprised of nowadays. She looked confused. Team Foster HR Strategy does not offer a Workplace Harassment Training Program. There is NO need for one. Every company she has ever been in contact with has a Culture of the Utmost Respect. Let’s ERADICATE Workplace Harassment in the workplace.

How do you feel about this vision? Do you believe Workplace Harassment can be eradicated? Team Foster believes that it is possible. 

Past Eradication
Great things begin small and escalate. Every accomplishment begins with a thought. One person – one thought. 

What about Sweat Shops in the United States? In the 1920s, the employees working in the horrid conditions for minimal pay never dreamed an end would come to Sweat Shops. Look at the table below. Horrid doesn’t adequately describe the conditions our ancestors worked in. 

What about smoking in public? When I was a child folks smoked everywhere. I can remember walking into my Dad’s smoked-filled office because of his co-workers smoking at work all day, every. Not anymore. The company where I led the Human Resources function for 23+ years was one of the first companies in Knoxville, TN to enforce a smoke-free campus. 

We can do this. Join me in making the Team Foster vision become a reality. Harassment should not be feared at work. 

Henry Cloud Quote
Henry Cloud is one of my favorite authors. He is a psychologist who works with CEOs and Work Teams to help them maximize their potential. This is my favorite Henry Cloud quote:

You and I create and allow most of what we deal with day in and day out. I want to inspire and encourage all employees to ‘Control the Conditions.’ Workplace Harassment is not a knowledge problem. It is a behavior problem. The problem is the misuse of control and power; and, inequality. Let’s learn more!

The Root Causes of the Problem
Workplace Harassment begins as rude or unprofessional behavior; then, it follows this pattern of escalation – dismissive and unwelcoming behavior, abusive and bullying behavior; then, finally, illegal behavior. Who is in control of the conditions surrounding you?  Are you?

Misuse of Control and Power
There are five types of power present in the workplace:

  1. Coercive – conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc.
  2. Reward – Reward power is conveyed through rewarding individuals for compliance with one’s wishes.
  3. Legitimate – Legitimate power comes from having a position of power in an organization.
  4. Expert – Expert power comes from one’s experiences, skills or knowledge.
  5. Referent – Referent power comes from being trusted and respected.

Having power is not the problem. Misusing the power is the problem. Some examples of misusing power are being threatened repeatedly regarding being fired and being humiliated in front of co-workers. This type of harassment will demoralize the workforce causing productivity and profits to plummet. 

Inequality in the workplace acerbates the Workplace Harassment problem. Ten of the most realized problems related to inequality are: Sexual harassment, unequal pay, terminations, interview questions, glass ceilings, diminished responsibilities, positional bias, restrooms, conversations, and outdated views. What are we going to do to put an end to inequality? Let’s take control of our conditions by being personally accountable for what we create and allow. 

The Challenge!
Are you ready to take a giant step out of your comfort zone? Don’t get me wrong: Any unwanted and unwelcomed sexual advancement or workplace harassment is WRONG, 100% wrong! I am just challenging you to control the conditions around you to keep from placing yourself in an awkward and/or uncomfortable situation. Try the advice below.

10 Ways to Be Safe and not Sorry

  1. Jokes, stories and images that have anything to do with sex acts or body parts are to be avoided.
  2. Keep your work parties “PG” rated.
  3. Ensure that all senior-level employees attend anti-harassment workshops.
  4. Respond to harassment complaints right away.
  5. Prevent retaliation.
  6. Be conscience of how you look at the opposite sex.; and again – how you laugh at inappropriate comments or jokes. These are ‘gateway’ actions. 
  7. Dress appropriately. Women: Cleavage is NOT appropriate at work. Men: Only one button unbuttoned. 
  8. If the tips above don’t work and you still feel uncomfortable, immediately make it clear that you are only interested in a work relationship. 
  9. Be conscious of ‘feelers!’ Folks will test the waters before making an outright advancement. 
  10. Always keep in mind that perceptions differ, markedly.

Finally, rethink your third drink at a Company or Work Function, or, maybe even your first! Stay in control of your actions. Discipline yourself to NO MORE than two units of alcohol while fraternizing with co-workers. 

The Three R’s
No! Not reading, writing and arithmetic. The Three R’s below will aid in assisting you in controlling your conditions and/or seeking help if necessary. 

  • Recognize. Firstly, we must recognize what is going on. Stay tuned in. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be totally paranoid, just cautiously paranoid! Bullies come in all forms: Loud and obnoxious, two-faced, consistently critical, withholding resources, etc. Notice early on when you are being taken advantage of.
  • Respond. Oh no! You have done your very best to control the conditions, but a harasser got through to you any way. Don’t feel badly. Bullies are very manipulative and coercive. Be ready to respond appropriately when this happens. STOP – CHALLENGE – CHOOSE! I learned of this method from the book Play to Win by Larry Miller. Below is a model that explains the method perfectly. 

Be prepared to respond by practicing “If, Then . . .” statements.

Report. If inappropriate advances and/or behavior continue, please report the issue to the appropriate authority. Contact your supervisor or the Human Resources Department. Contact the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Labor if the behavior is based on race, gender, national origin, color, religion, age or other protected classes. Here’s a link to a page on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website that you might be interested in.

Lastly, contact the police if the bullying or harassment rises to the level that it violates criminal law. The Key Point is to notify someone. 

Please join me in doing all that can be done to fulfill the Team Foster vision. It can be done. Eradicating Workplace Harassment will not only increase morale which will lead to greater productivity; it will equalize the workplace leading to equal pay, broken glass ceilings, decreased positional bias, and increasing duties and responsibilities for all.