By Kit Goldman, President of Workplace Training Network, Inc.
Nancy: a senior manager at a fictional company or government agency
Roger: a supervisor, Nancy’s direct report, former peer, long time friend
Scene: Nancy’s office. Roger arrives for a meeting
R: (At door) Good morning, stranger.
N: What’s so good about it?
R. Another person blown away by my charm and charisma.
N: Sorry, Roger. It’s been a stressful day. Come in. Sit down. (overly perky) Let’s talk.
R: Uh oh. The last woman who said “let’s talk” like that was my second wife. Just before she became my second ex-wife. Is this gonna cost me?
R: Can I speak to you as my friend, and not the big cheese you’ve become? You’re testy. Probably because your birthday’s tomorrow. I know how you ladies get. Save your depression for the big one. Next year, right? That’s when you wear the black arm band and do a 2-1/2 with a twist off the Broadway Bridge. Besides, you never looked foxier.
N: Roger, what would we do without you to liven things up?
R: Don’t have to worry about that. God himself, or herself – see? I’m not a sexist — could get me out of here until my house and 3 kids are paid off.
N: I’m rooting for you to make it, believe me.
R: Make it? What’s that supposed to mean?
N: It means I need to set our friendship aside and speak on behalf of management. Roger. I’ve become aware not everyone on your staff is totally comfortable with the work environment in your group and certain aspects of your behavior. We need to discuss it.
R: “Aspects of my behavior”? What the…. does that mean?
N. It means there’s a feeling you’re not as sensitive as you should be about….
R: Sensitive? I cry like a baby every time the Lakers lose! Is this about that vindictive, but sensitive, fruit-of-the-loom who thinks I’m homophobic?
N: Roger, has it occurred to you some people, including me, find expressions like “fruit of the loom” offensive?
R: Offensive? Come on, Nancy. If I wanted to be offensive, I would have done it after the holiday party when you drank all that mulled wine and passed out. I carried you to my car, got you home, and actually thought about getting offensive as I tucked you into bed — until you threw up on me. But was I offended? No I was not.
N: Stop with the stand-up OK? I’m talking about workplace conduct. That’s a whole different issue. A serious issue.
R. Fine. Let’s get serious. No one on my staff seemed offended when Mr. Insensitive here passed out bonuses last month. I didn’t notice you being offended when I made you a hero by increasing revenues at my uncomfortable workplace by almost 40% right after you took the helm. Someone’s offended? News to me.
N. Roger, your product skills and knowledge aren’t in question. And everyone knows you’ve got a good heart. But in today’s workplace, certain conduct isn’t appropriate and can’t be tolerated. It’s too risky.
R: (tries being funny) I don’t do anything done in my workplace several former U.S. Presidents of the United States haven’t done in theirs! (She’s not amused) I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about
N: Specifically – sexual banter; physical contact, personal remarks about appearance, age, religion. Conduct which could constitute harassment.
R: (Outraged, rises) Harassment? I know you don’t mean sexual harassment! With my schedule, I can’t even sexually harass my wife, who, if this schedule doesn’t lighten up, is destined to be my third ex-wife!
N: Roger, sit down. Please. Get your ego out of the way. One of your employees came to see me. Said you were a great boss in many ways but said there’s inappropriate stuff going on involving co-workers and customers. From her description it certainly is inappropriate. This person said you know about it – even participate in it — and seem to think it’s OK, that loosening up and participating in it is a required for advancement. This employee felt awful saying anything. Didn’t want to get you in trouble or be a whistleblower. I’m very concerned, Roger. Managers are agents of this corporation. We can’t ignore, or worse, participate in potentially illegal behavior. It creates a huge risk for the company. It can devastate the great morale we work so hard to build and damage our reputation. If I’m testy, this is why. So… any of this true?
R: Margo Maguire. I should have known. I treated her like my sister, for God’s sake. Tried to help her. That’s how she shows her appreciation – whining behind my back to management.
N. Whining behind your back? Roger, this person did what we ask of employees: followed the complaint procedure. You should be glad they came to me instead of the EEOC or a lawyer! As far as treating Margo Maguire like your sister, I don’t recall any of your siblings being on staff. Our employees are professionals. What offends an employee may well be different from what offends you or your family. You need to take complaints seriously. Bottom line, if there’s conduct that meets the definition of harassment, it has to stop. If you know about it, you have to act. It’s illegal. It’s against policy. The consequences are serious.
R: (looks around) Hey, did you redecorate in here? Looks great. So, what’s your point?
N: (rises, speaks to the audience) I’m about to lose it. If I don’t take a break, I may violate our zero tolerance policy for violence. (to the audience) Help me out, OK? (interacts with the audience, gets input, returns to the scene)
R: Let me get this straight. You’re saying if you know about it you’ve gotta do something. How about when an employee comes in, pisses and moans about a problem, they know we have an “open door” policy, I say OK, I’ll fix it, they say “No, no, I was venting, I don’t want you to do anything, I want this confidential”. Am I supposed to force them to make a complaint?
N: We’re agents. We have a legal duty to act if we’re aware of possible harassment. Employees need to know that from the get-go. Given that, we need to do all we can to get them to open up if there’s a problem. I know it can be a pain in the…whatever. It takes precious time and energy. But it’s a bottom line issue. Getting it resolved is a whole lot less nasty than a lawsuit. Agreed?
R. What choice do I have? You’ve got me by the…oops…ok, listen, I need some transition time. Half my vocabulary’s now illegal. (Rises looks at watch)I’ve got to get back. I’ll take care of it. I’ll talk to Margo….
N: It’s best if you don’t. Eliminating the problem conduct is what you need to do. Margo seemed concerned about retaliation. A discussion’s not necessary. It might seem threatening. I let Margo know retaliation against employees for making complaints is prohibited and won’t be tolerated. It’s essential we’re on the same page there, Roger. Retaliation is a litigation landmine.
D: Retaliation? Now I’m some sort of hit man? When did I morph from the most successful manager in the chain to pervert of the month? This reminds me of the 7th grade. I was hauled into the principal’s office. Felony bra snapping.
N. Roger, you’re a handful.
R: I’m not going near that comment
N: Very encouraging. (she rises) I’ll email you my notes re: the specific behavior we need to address. It needs to stop immediately. We also have a duty to monitor the situation, make sure it doesn’t repeat itself. OK?
R: OK. OK. My mind actually functions pretty well considering my misspent youth.. Let me get back, make more money for the folks who think I’m a depraved neanderthal.
N: No one thinks that. I’m on your side. Your success is my success. This was hard for me too (goes to give him a hug)
R: (backs away melodramatically) Uh uh uh! Sexual harassment! (they have a respectful hug, he exits)
Interactive discussion with audience:
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