Monday, March 11, 2013

Fighting Off Workplace Harassment

You need to feel completely comfortable in your place of work in order to perform your job at your highest potential. Although striving to project a professional persona should always be your main objective, it is also beneficial (and basically mandatory in these days of social networking) to maintain amicable relationships with co-workers and other professionals in your field. 

Cultivating friendly relationships with the people you interact with on a daily basis helps make your time at work go by faster, allows for smoother workplace encounters, and creates a positive energy (not to mention the benefits it will have on your career). However, it can be very easy to confuse what seems to be friendly conversation/behavior with what crosses the line as far as professionalism is concerned. 

Accordingly, it can be even more difficult to speak up when you become involved in awkward workplace situations. Because harassment can sneak up in many different ways, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of its most common forms so that you can be prepared for it and are ready to take action. 

Behavior You Should Absolutely Not Tolerate At Work: 

  • Suggestive commentary about your clothing, appearance, or relationship/marital status
  • Out of line nicknames or affectionate name-calling
  • Jokes of a sexual, sexist, racist, violent, homophobic, religious, or otherwise offensive nature 
  • Unwanted touching of any kind 
  • Threats to your safety/well-being, or other threatening comments of any kind (especially physical/emotional threats to you or your family and/or in regards to your professional reputation) 
  • Any type of behavior that might be perceived as stalker/obsessive behavior toward you (take note if any individual is giving you specific/unnecessary attention)
  • Any perceived levels of aggression, anger, or a short temper in a particular individual
  • Sexual advances, inappropriate gestures, or blackmail of any kind 
  • Differential treatment based on gender, race, or physical appearance  
  • Any promotion, benefit, advancement, or incentive offered in exchange for sexual (or other unfair) favors
  • Any instinctive feelings that you are being targeted (for any reason!)   
  • Any other behavior that might be considered harassment, otherwise offensive, or that makes you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or offended in your place of work 

If Someone Is Making You Feel Uncomfortable

You should never have to worry about your comfort or safety in your place of work. Especially if this is the first time you have been harassed, it may be difficult to know if your situation calls for outside help. You should keep in mind, however, that if someone is making you feel uncomfortable in any way, you should speak up before the situation worsens. 

You should always respond to the harassment by letting your coworker know that you are not okay with his or her behavior. If you do not feel comfortable addressing this person directly, or if their verbal or physical harassment continues after you have confronted them, you need to inform your supervisor/management (and/or your company's Human Resources department, if available) of the situation right away. Harassment (sexual and otherwise) in the workplace is simply intolerable and will be responded to and reprimanded. 

Be Aware Of Your Own Level Of Professionalism 

Lastly, always be mindful and cautious of the way you project your own image to others. As pointed out, friendly behavior can easily be misconstrued as inappropriate behavior. You should feel free (and are encouraged) to bring your own personality into the workplace, but remember to keep all comments and jokes tasteful and completely non-offensive. 

If for any reason a co-worker has expressed discomfort in response to something you have said or done, you should apologize and make a mental note of the offense to avoid repeating it in the future.

We all have the right to a sense of safety. And as always, we are all responsible for one another. There are an infinite number of ways to promote cruelty free living. If you witness an act of human indecency, I encourage you to please step up: both for yourselves and each other. 


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