In the last 40 hours of work, slightly more than four of those hours have been dedicated to reeducating us on constitutes appropriate versus inappropriate comments, innuendo, and/or touching. That’s more than one tenth of the last work week focused on this stuff. In my years working for this Big Government Agency, I haven’t yet run across anyone who actually thinks sexual harassment is a good idea, so I’m forced to wonder if this latest round of training is maybe a little off the mark. I mean did anyone wake up this morning thinking that they were going to come to the office and start talking about the rack size of dime piece piece sitting next to them? Even if they’re thinking it, most people have a sufficient instinct for self preservation to know that they shouldn’t say it out loud… or at least within earshot.
Look, I’m not naïve enough to think that it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think the key to solving the problem lies in more training. The response to every leadership issue for the last decade has been “obviously that happened because we’re not doing enough training.” But seriously, how much training do we need to make the point that rape, pillage, and plunder are not acceptable workplace activities? The thing is, plenty of people get the training and just don’t care. Telling people that X, Y, and Z are bad doesn’t change the way they feel even if it manages to change the way they act when they think people are watching.
From my ant’s eye view of the bureaucracy, a spike in harassment complaints isn’t a failure of training. It’s a failure of management and dare I say leadership. When management doesn’t respond to a validated complaint with swift and furious action, it establishes a climate of permissiveness and that climate says far more about how the organization feels about “inappropriate” actions than a ream of policy memos and endless hours of training. If leadership were serious about it being an issue, heads would roll every time they find out something happened, but it’s obvious to even a working schmo like me that if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll keep getting what they got.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.