Respect in the Workplace – It’s Overdue!

Dignity And Respect At Work


We have legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace – so why are we still struggling with inappropriate behaviour that is hurtful and demeaning in the workplace?

Recently, the Ontario Government has created powerful commercials challenging sexually inappropriate behaviour including in the workplace. The first commercial kept using the refrain, “Thanks for not telling anyone” or similar statements. From my perspective, one downfall of this campaign is that it views women as victims and men as perpetrators and we all know that women are perpetrators and men are also victims of inappropriate behaviour.

The most recent commercial is also powerful, instructing us that “if it’s not okay to say, then it’s never okay to do”. The challenge here is that many people don’t have the internal filter to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not.

I think there are several factors including:

  1. Lack of Self-Awareness. A common refrain from someone who has violated someone’s comfort is that the person is “too sensitive” – it’s easier to blame the victim than take personal responsibility. They think that they are joking, or they get a rush from making another person uncomfortable.
  2. Lack of Emotional Intelligence. The individual offender may lack the personal skills to recognize someone else’s hurt or discomfort. They may not recognize the impact of their behaviour on the other person.
  3. Denial or Minimization. Either the manager or the individual perpetrator denies that it was anything more than “having some fun” and as a result, the victim of the behaviour is again disrespected.
  4. Secrecy. For many individuals, the embarrassment and shame prevent them from coming forward to share their experiences. Bystanders may be uncomfortable confronting the inappropriate behaviour. There is often a status difference and individuals may fear losing their jobs, so not report inappropriate behaviour.
  5. It’s Uncomfortable to Deal with. Many managers avoid dealing with it or when they deal with it, their discomfort can confuse their message. Has this been documented in their employee file? What are the consequences if the behaviour continues?

It’s time for us all to pick up our socks. If you are making people uncomfortable, take responsibility, make amends and stop. If you are witnessing someone being made uncomfortable as a result of another’s inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, then take responsibility by speaking up – both to the individual and to their manager. As they say with safety training with children – keep telling until someone listens and takes action.

If you are a supervisor or manager – take these reports seriously. Investigate the details and take action to stop the behaviour. Tell the person in no uncertain terms that it’s unacceptable. Hold the perpetrator accountable, document the situation and support the victim in the situation.

Let’s make our workplaces be based on respect and dignity for all.

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