Of all the commentaries about the fast breaking allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, few people have discussed how this will actually affect future workplace behavior.
If the outcry continues to be deep and strong, the future workplace for men and women working together will be very different.
So, as many companies start their annual holiday party celebration cycle, here are some caveats to keep in mind if you don’t want to violate the new boundaries of behaviors that can be considered sexually inappropriate and get yourself into major trouble at work.
1. At the holiday party, keep your hands to yourself. Even better, keep your hands in your pockets, especially if you find yourself next to someone at the holiday party who you don’t like. This person can be a male or female. Also, do not put your hand around anyone for that holiday photo unless your hands are folded in front of you and readily visible to the camera. Try to smile.
2. If you feel that you have been harassed of assaulted, don’t complain to the HR Department. If we have seen anything from the nationwide sexual harassment stories, it’s that corporate HR departments don’t do anything. If they did, serial offenders like Bill 0’Reilly and Matt Lauer would not have been able to get away with it for years. Anyone who has worked in corporate America knows HR departments exist for only a few reasons: to prevent the corporation from being sued from only the most egregious events, such as committing suicide in the office and to protect the executives’ bonuses and salaries. Aside from that, working in the corporate HR department is like early retirement, except you are still getting paid. All you have to do is be able to keep a secret, be loyal to management and be adept at cover-ups.
3. Do not tell any dirty jokes at the party or the office. Those jokes don’t cut it anymore unless you are telling them to people you have known since elementary school or co-workers who have spent at least a decade in prison.
4. Watch out for declines in workplace productivity. One of the least discussed by-products about the impact of sexual harassment claims is how they will impact workplace productivity. There will definitely be an impact as new behaviors are learned among workers. It won’t be fast or easy and in the interim, it will create awkward situations, especially when work is being done in travel situations away from the office.
5. Remember that sex in the workplace is as old as sex itself. Despite the new emphasis on sexual
harassment training, which will be a huge cottage industry at many corporations, these workshops are usually just informative and an excuse for workers to get out of the office for the day. Sexual awareness and trying to discern if the other party is interested in you is the basis for procreation. It is essentially human. The species does not exist without it. In its modern extreme, just watch the 1960 movie, “The Apartment” (co-written, produced and directed by Billy Wilder), in which executives lean on a lower-level manager to use his apartment for their sexcapades with other office co-workers. In the film, the use of his apartment for sex outside the office is an open secret. And as an insight into social mores at the time (and maybe today?) the manager whose apartment is being used (Jack Lemmon) is rewarded with promises of promotion if he allows the boss to use it discretely.
6. Remember that sexual harassment is a power play in terms of money and executive status inside the company. As long as wages are not rising fast enough and promotions are rare, people will be forced to do things for their own economic benefit that are not based on merit promotions and jog capabilities. I have known real estate agents that slept with home owners in order to get the house listing. The same is true outside of the real estate industry and that applies to billion dollar corporations, as well as small businesses. The amount of money someone is being paid is relative to a person and where they live. More sexual harassment complaints should come from outside of the large billion-dollar corporations and trickle down to small town America if the complainant can find another job.
7. Bring back slapping. In the old days, when a woman was offended by a man, they slapped him in the face. This scene has appeared in hundreds of movies, some starring John Wayne, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and the biggest leading male names in Hollywood. In the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s, this was a common female response to men who offended their boundaries. Today, this would be considered assault and battery, but after the recent revelations, a few intrepid judges may side with the woman if she has a good case, complete with witnesses. But it would be a bold move by a woman to make if she is defending herself.