Sexual harassment at the workplace is nothing new. But thanks to the “Me Too” movement, national awareness of its prevalence has been heightened in recent times. And for many, it is still not a really big issue, especially because it is not very well understood, and because it very, very seldom results in sex. But by focusing on the “harassment” component, a clearer picture begins to form. For nobody likes to be harassed… not for sex, not for anything. Sexual harassment is a workplace productivity drain because it joins the lists of conflicts that impede individual productivity with ripple effects all the way to the bottom line.
A very good place to begin an examination of sexual harassment is the Guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EECC). The guidelines state:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of asexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
- submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
- such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. §1604.11 )
From an economic perspective, the operative words of the guideline are, “when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment”
The dominant profiles are that of a senior person harassing a junior person, a male harassing a female or an older person harassing a younger person. Very often, more than one of these conditions are combined. We must note however that females do harass men, especially junior men and with the onslaught of the LGBTQ community on traditional society and the prohibition of employment discrimination, men do harass men and women do harass women.
Some of the dominant conflicts that are triggered by sexual harassment are fear, resentment, anger, helplessness, insecurity, guilt and misplaced gratification. When sexual harassment is a power play by a senior person in authority, the fear of losing a job or the fear of not being believed if a report is made are real. The fear of being disbelieved can be exasperated by the shame and “demoralization” that accompanies the accused declaring that the victim “is not his type”.
Resentment is usually suppressed anger felt by someone who is too weak to retaliate aggressively or even defensively, and as a result their anger is internalized passively. Guilt is a very credible conflict when the victim believes that he or she is a contributing factor to the harassment, perhaps by the way they dress, even when not violating the workplace dress code, or the way their anatomy moves when they walk Guilt can be triggered by a very sensitive awareness of the expectations of a spouse or even that of a parent. What would my husband think… or what would my mother think?
And last in this short list is gratification. After all, when powerful accused men begin their denial by saying “she is not my type…”, the reverse could be that the victim is being harassed because she is attractive enough and desirable by men. It is easy to see how easily a person of low esteem or someone suffering from an inferiority complex could become a victim of such misguided gratification.
In every instance of sexual harassment, powerful emotions are stirred up, and they all work against the harmony that is a pre-requisite for individual and corporate productivity. In a healthy workplace environment there must be a zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any genre. Senior management and owners must understand that when the “boss” is the perpetrator, he or she is literally placing his or her own foot on the productivity brakes. Not only is the powerful accused dismantling the work ethic of the victim, but the victim is being empowered to wield an unhealthy blackmail control over the “boss”. Such control is readily shared by the victim’s associates, and the productivity brakes is pumped even harder still.
A healthy non-threatening workplace environment fosters appreciation of every employee as a specially designed human being who leads a full life outside of work, and who relies on sexual fulfilment from relationships outside of work. An appreciation by potential perpetrators of their own off-site sexual commitments should be leveraged to foster appropriate behavior at work, and/or to repair the breaches in their private sexual life. No man or no woman ought to be placed in a position at the workplace where they have to say “No” to sexual advances. And leading the charge against perpetrators must be the protectors of the bottom-line. This subject always makes an excellent discussion forum at the workplace because sex is real hot stuff and many employees come to work with unsatisfied appetites and undischarged desires for sex, but definitely do not expect fulfillment to come from a coworker