A Harassment-Free Workplace

Make consideration, respect and transparency central to your office policies and culture to create a safe and harassment-free workplace.

From celebrity chefs and journalists to Hollywood moguls and politicians, including even the highest office in the country, allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct, abuse and assault in the workplace have dominated the news both locally and nationally.

These disheartening, shocking and heartbreaking situations have spurred much-needed reflection and conversation in New Orleans and throughout the country. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to revisit and make crystal clear and transparent — in both large and small companies — office sexual harassment policies either via a companywide email or in a company meeting.

As individuals it’s our responsibility to learn cultural, social and business norms regarding these topics, as well as the specifics put in place by the companies in which we work. While harassment, misconduct, abuse and assault are much more complicated than basic etiquette, there are a few practices that will help all of us avoid the behavior that contributes to toxic, unsafe environments.

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First, and this may seem obvious, but it’s an important reminder: Think of every coworker — regardless of gender, age or level of experience — as a whole person. Each one of us wants to be respected for our knowledge, talent, experience and contributions to the workplace rather than being judged and objectified by our colleagues.

Next, whether they are peers, supervisors or underlings, don’t violate personal space and refrain from touching your coworkers. Simply put: Keep your hands to yourself. Everyone has their own comfort level where personal space is concerned, so always be mindful of facial and verbal cues, as well as body language. Is it OK to give someone a literal pat on the back for a job well done? Yes, probably, if it is brief and confined to the upper back near the shoulder. But avoid shoulder and neck squeezes, a hand on the back or wrapped around the shoulder and other intimate gestures.

Are you a hugger? Before flinging your arms open and going in for that hug, consider the client, the culture of your company or industry, how well you know the other person and the situation.

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What if a hugger is coming at you and you don’t like hugs? Simply extend your hand and say, “I’m sorry, I’m not much of a hugger.” It’s never inappropriate to establish your boundaries. If doing so is difficult for you, practice until it feels comfortable. In American business, a handshake is always appropriate, so when in doubt, stick with shaking hands.

It is also important to consider the way you speak to others and the subject matter. Avoid discussing intimate details and off-color or racy topics at any work-related activity, including during work travel.

Finally, what if you are attracted to and sensing a genuine connection with a colleague and want to ask him or her out on a date? Learn your company’s policy on office dating and follow it to the letter. Familiarize yourself with modern rules of consent and follow those to the letter.

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While this advice might seem designed to be the opposite of romantic, remember, we are talking about your place of employment or the company you own, not a dating app or a bar. (That said, it’s always important to follow the rules of consent, whether at work or not).
Consideration and respect are at the heart of workplace (and social) civility. If we treat one another with those two principles at the forefront of all of our interactions, it’s unlikely that we will ever have to worry about our conduct being inappropriate or unprofessional, or being perceived as such.

“The Golden Rule” is a great place to start, but treating others as you wish to be treated might not always be the best course of action. As human beings we have the capacity to cultivate great empathy, so tap into and sharpen your innate ability to understand the feelings of those around you and treat others as they wish to be treated.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.


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