In the past few months, multiple allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault have resulted in the firing of some well-known and powerful men in the entertainment industry, the news media, political and social organizations, and at the executive level of corporate America. The courage of some women and men has brought public attention to the behavior of these men who have destroyed the lives of those they may have considered powerless. As a result, several businesses and political and social organizations were swift to take actions against the perpetrators.
The recent actions by certain organizations in corporate America have sent a clear message to powerful individuals at the executive level that harassment, abuse, or assault of any kind is not to be tolerated in the workplace. Harassment, abuse, and assault come in verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual forms. They are very old problems, and we need to understand that they cannot be solved only by firing a few powerful men. This is because these problems exist at all levels of an organization, from the boardroom down to the mailroom. It has certainly been a good start to take action against people at the top of organizations as a means of sending the message to everyone that this type of behavior is not to be tolerated at any level of the organization. This is important because people with power exist at all levels, and it is important for everyone in an organization to know that there are consequences for their actions.
Corporate America did the right thing by firing the powerful people, but this is still not enough to bring about changes in the workplace where millions of men and women work together. Organizations must be proactive rather than reactive to make the workplace safe for everyone in the organization. The proactive approach should include building a culture and environment that protects everyone in the organization from harassment, abuse, and assault.
An understanding of why one human being harasses, abuses, or assaults another human being may help in creating a safe workplace. The following exhibit shows how power is used by the perpetrators to harass, abuse, or assault others.
I believe that organizations may be able to address the power imbalance by developing a culture that balances power to create a safe working environment, allow employees to report incidents without any fear of reprisals, and by taking swift action against the perpetrators.
The issue of harassment, abuse, and assault is not just a problem at the workplace; it is also a much bigger problem for our society. One individual’s behavior against another can all too often result in harassment, abuse, or assault. Such behavior exists because individuals consciously choose to adopt the negative behavior and use it to hurt people around them. This behavior is learned, and it is acquired while growing up in families, schools, social organizations, and workplaces.
The following encounter may help us understand how we learn behavior from others in the workplace.
A functional manager who accepted his current position as a promotion a year ago is upset because one of the employees has filed a harassment complaint with HR against him. He argues that no one complained when the past manager was doing the same things in the workplace.
A discussion with the currently promoted manager revealed that the past manager had retired after 40 years of service with an excellent performance record. However, everyone in the department was afraid of him, and no one reported him because of fear of reprisals. This is a good example of how bad behavior can be learned and used in the workplace due to persistent fear of retaliation.
The following is another encounter that may help us understand the influence of bad behavior in family life, too.
After watching a video related to harassment, abuse, and assault in the workplace, one of the members in a group asked, “How could one be able to identify harassment when they have grown up with harassment and abuse in their own house?”
After a discussion with the other group members, it was revealed that one of the parent’s behavior led to the abuse or assault of children. In a situation like this, children have no other alternatives except to adapt to the environment until they became sufficiently self-supportive to leave the house. This is a good example of how a family relationship (parent, child, or spouse) is used to abuse or assault family members. Furthermore, the children who have grown up in this environment may raise their voices against abuse because of these childhood experiences, or they may use the learned behavior from parents to harass, abuse, or assault others in their workplaces, or they may accept harassment, abuse, and assault as a normal work life.
Harassment, abuse, and assault, whether they are verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual, occur both in work and in family life. They are not just problems in the workplace, but much bigger problems within society.
© 2017 Mohammed R. Ahmed
Ahmed, M.R. (2017). We Shouldn’t Tolerate Harassment, Abuse, or Assault in the Workplace.
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