SMALL BIZ WATCH--As sexual harassment allegations spread to more individuals and industries, the sad facts are coming out regarding treatment of women at work that many have known about for decades. It’s easy to point to more “glamorous” enterprises like entertainment, investment, culinary, tech, politics, fashion, and think that these “ego-head” movers and shakers are getting their due. In the days to come #MeToo will certainly spread to less glamorous industries and less prominent transgressors, and many industries and localities will have unfortunate and distressing sexual harassment accounts to deal with.
But all harassment is not sexual and all arrogant egos aren’t big-business superstars and owners. We can anticipate increased reports of the screamers, the verbal and psychological abusers, and emotional intimidation and disrespect that occurs across all industries and all levels of an organization. It’s no longer an “old school” world and #MeToo is a strong signal that more and more forms of abusive behavior will be less and less tolerated at work.
Business leaders, please don't think this is an HR issue that your HR managers should be handling. This is a leadership issue and reflects behavior that starts at the top. When I first heard the phrase “the fish stinks from the head down,” I thought truer words about organizations were never spoken. So, let’s be real and recognize that being a business leader, or owner, and having integrity as a senior professional means at a minimum taking responsibility for having a civilized workplace.
So what should you be looking for at your company—not just to avoid accusations and a law suit, but to make your company a respectful, constructive, and a desirable place to work? It’s clear that the basics of having a respectful and dignified workplace are often ignored in service of the arrogant, entitled, and privileged. And let’s not forget that “lower level” employees will engage in the same problem behaviors unless someone chooses to do something about it. Here are a few good places to look:
Walk the Talk – Whether or not clearly articulated, every company has expectations, values, guidelines, “unspoken” norms, etc., regarding acceptable behavior. Take a step back, look at your guidelines regarding appropriate behavior, and honestly assess whether or not your team “walks the talk.” It’s about the real and actual behavior taking place—not what your handbook says. The bigger the gap between what you say and what you do, and the more often you say, “The next time this happens we’ll do something”, the more likely you are to have issues and a not-so-great environment.
“It’s kind of crazy around here” – Rapid growth and/or significant change are common in business and often create stress and uncertainty that are frequently accompanied by tight deadlines, frustration, short tempers, and differences of opinion. These become a great excuse for accepting various unsavory behaviors in order to “get the job done.” When the boss goes off it raises the tension level and becomes a lot easier for others to think, “It’s okay for me to be that way.” This is the time for leaders to be the adult and role model in the room and make demanding situations better, not worse.
Are you surrounded by “yes” men? – Research shows that one sign of a bully is they surround themselves with “yes” men. Whether you’ve chosen them or cowed them into submission, if no one is willing to question you, getting accurate feedback on you and your inner circle’s bad behavior is unlikely. Rather than getting input from your typical supporters again and again, go to others that you don’t typically get input from. Let them know you’re sincerely interested in their perspective about the work environment. If you think you might be on thin ice, find a peer you respect and trust, or your employment attorney, and ask for their assessment.
If you really want to get a pulse check on your environment, discuss this article with your team, and where it makes sense have your team talk about it with their teams. If your first thought is, “That may not be a good idea,” why is it not a good idea? You want this type of discussion to be constructive, candid, and as objective as possible. And if you think it too risky or too many issues may come up, you may have your answer.
Perhaps the biggest issue with nonphysical harassment is since it is not as tangible as physical harassment, it’s harder to pinpoint and easier to dismiss. As we are seeing almost daily, good intentions or “I should have said something about that” is not an effective deterrent to unacceptable behavior. We’ve reached the tipping point regarding the importance and experience of a safe and respectful work environment and culture. Having an accurate moral compass, actively making the “right” decisions, and demonstrating behaviors that show what is expected and not acceptable is what is called for.
As a leader, having a dignified and desirable workplace experience is not wishful thinking or coincidence —it’s your choice.
(Jay Marks is an organizational consultant based in Los Angeles, and a former VP of Management Learning and Development for the Capital Group Companies, a leading global investment firm.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Tags: Jay Marks, #MeToo, harassment in the workplace, leadership, walk the talk, bullying at work