Acceptable business interactions and relationships are changing right before our very eyes.
The last “What the Hecht” blog titled Just Being Friendly detailed the sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein. His behavior started a tsunami of further famous people with bad behavior that includes Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, and Garrison Keillor. I am sure there will be more… many more!
This bodes the question, why now? Why have people put up with this inappropriate, unprofessional behavior for such a long time? Sexual harassment has been illegal and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act since 1964. What about the work world has led people and organizations to believe that this type of behavior is acceptable in the workplace or for that matter anywhere in 2017? These scenarios reflect one of the idioms my mom spoke about when I was entering the world of work many years ago,” put up or shut up”! I never knew what the heck that meant so I looked it up. According to Wikepedia this idiom means, “to take action or steps to resolve something that one dislikes or else stop complaining about it. “. That says it all. When you don’t feel you can take steps to resolve a situation because you are afraid to take those steps, or you are afraid of the consequences of taking them, you keep your mouth shut. The Harvey Weinstein harassment allegations were the first cracks in the foundation and now icons are tumbling, and it appears that no one is safe. Hallelujah, out with put up and shut up and in with respect and dignity. Maybe it is time we stop relying on force and power and started relying on performance and humanity.
Early in my human resource career, a sexual harassment situation was brought to my attention and I needed to investigate and make a recommendation how to deal with the alleged harasser. There was no “rule book” or investigation 101 course that I could rely on, so I talked to all individuals involved and found that the supervisor acted very inappropriately with a woman on his team and his bad behavior was common knowledge. When I completed my investigation, I brought the situation and my recommendation to the attention of the CEO. I naively believed this would be resolved in alignment with the positive and humane company values that were communicated on Day 1 of orientation. Instead, the CEO said, “You know Bob, he is a ladies’ man and was probably just kidding. Besides, he is happily married and we cannot afford to remove him from his position. He makes a lot of money for the company”. As far as he was concerned, case closed. That was the day I realized I was not going to get a gold watch from the company. I also developed my own definition of the word culture, “It is the gap between what a company says it does and what it really does”. In other words, does the company “walk its talk”. I have seen both ends of the spectrum and this erodes trust and ultimately impacts engagement.
So, what does this mean for you Mr. or Ms. Business Person? You are now living in an extraordinary time that is redefining business interactions and acceptable workplace behavior. This means that we must take responsibility for our behavior and its impact on others. We must check our egos at the door and realize to feel big we don’t have to make others feel small. We can no longer use our barometer as a measure of acceptable workplace behavior.
In the workplace, it means you must address issues NOW, when you see or learn about them. The incidents in the media have shown us that there is no statute of limitations for bad behavior. The year may change but the person who owns the behavior is the same…you did it, you own it. Be prepared that your employees may come to you and say, “Bob touched me two years ago at the Christmas party, what are you going to do about it”? You would typically think if it was that egregious why did you wait so long to bring this to our attention but now the “cat is out of the bag”. The employee may have been afraid of retaliation or may have believed that nothing would be done about it, but now it is our responsibility to act. These situations are not easy to deal with and emotions get in the way. These are the times when you can rely on an outside third party to provide objective feedback but the rule of thumb is to quickly “Do the Right Thing” with compassion, professionalism and confidentiality.