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INSIGHT

The demise of sexual harassment: don’t bet on it

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

With issues such as bullying and workplace violence making the headlines, it might seem as if sexual harassment is no longer a major workplace issue.

Don’t bet on it.

Sexual harassment continues to exist, and it’s going to be a major workplace issue for as long as people are people. That’s not to excuse insensitive or outright aggressive behavior, but humans are sexual beings, sexuality permeates our culture, and some people will fail to get the message that “no means no” and the office is not a pickup bar.

For owners, partners, and managers, the issue is to control the organizational climate, the office culture. And that starts at the top.

I’m not talking about controlling a lecherous board member or professional who thinks his or her standing should include some “perks.” That’s an obvious ethical and legal violation. If that is the case, my recommendation is to firmly ease them out the door.

What I’m recommending is the conscious establishment of an environment that is all business. In other words, senior management must communicate that when you come into work, you are there to work.

This starts with attire. Work clothes should communicate professionalism, not sexuality. You are not going out on a date; you’re going to work and everything about work should be focused on productivity and performance. This makes sense in many ways, but it serves to set a tone that focuses on business, not office liaisons.

Another good place to start is during formal workplace meetings and even informal conversations. This dialogue should be about performance and productivity. References to sexuality should be avoided or at least minimized. There should be zero tolerance for jokes and joking. Sooner or later, the subject matter will turn to sexuality, racism or some sort of “judgmental-ism” that has no place at work. People let their hair down, lose their focus or just take a mental vacation. In no time at all, the situation becomes one where someone is offended.

That’s not easy, and I know it may sound somewhat extreme. But it is achievable if practice leaders and mid-management structure their interaction to communicate that the workplace is “all business.” If an employee goes beyond those boundaries, take them aside or use a later opportunity to make that clear. Initially, stress that you simply want to maintain a professional environment and ask for their help.

Of course, strengths can become weaknesses if taken to extreme. Establishing your workplace as an “all business” environment can be overdone. Don’t confuse professionalism with an overly impersonal or cold environment. Allow for and accommodate individual employee’s personal needs, especially concerns relating to loved ones, health matters or career. All of these can and should be acknowledged and accommodated when possible.

But issues relating to sexuality must be reduced and eliminated in the workplace. It must be clear that the workplace culture simply does not include sexuality. If all levels of management recognize this, sexual harassment can be eliminated. If it clearly is inappropriate to bring sexuality into the workplace, then sexual harassment won’t have a chance.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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