The best thing about working with people is that you’ll never be bored. The worst thing is that sometimes, boredom seems preferable to what you have to deal with from your fellow humans. For example, everyone’s had that boss who was apparently out sick on Appropriate Behavior Day during management training.
(Photo Credit: R. Mitra/Flickr)
Witness the latest reader question for Slate‘s Dear Prudence:
Fifty Shades of Inappropriate: My boss took all the women in the office to see Fifty Shades of Grey. All of us liked the book and had often expressed excitement about the movie, so it’s not like he came up with the idea all on his own. And he was clearly trying to be nice; he bought us all lunch and drinks beforehand too. But I can’t help feeling that this was weird and inappropriate. He can get very defensive when someone calls him out on some of his mostly harmless but antiquated attitudes. He thinks of his employees as his friends and assumes we feel the same. How can I make him see that he crossed a line without making him feel bad?
Prudie’s answer is definitely worth a gander, especially if your colleagues are confused about how to talk about this phenomenon professionally. (Short answer: do not talk about it. At all. At least, not while you’re at work.)
The whole question brings up an important issue that will be with us long after the film itself fades from cultural memory, and that is the fact that many people still do not know how to behave in an office. And they need to learn, because there is no place on earth where manners are more important than in a professional setting. Without them, it’s impossible to do your job while allowing others to do theirs — which is, after all, the whole reason the company pays all of you, in the first place.
Here, then, are a few rules to keep in mind, whether you’re a manager or among the managed, in order to keep things professional at work:
1. This is not your home.
You spend a lot of time in the office, sure. But that doesn’t mean that you live there. Things that are A-OK at home — talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, wearing slippers, belching loudly after a meal — are not OK at the office.
2. What you see is not always what you get.
The inappropriate manager, above, might have convinced himself that his behavior was OK, because his reports said yes to his invitation. That’s a dangerous assumption.
The employee/boss relationship does not come with safewords, so if you invite the people you manage to come see a dirty movie, it’s impossible to know for sure whether they’re saying yes because they want to, or because they’re afraid that if they say no, they’ll be fired. It’s the responsibility of the manager, in this case, to make sure that he or she isn’t putting subordinates in an uncomfortable position.
3. You do not have to accept inappropriate behavior.
Managers should set a professional tone, but if they don’t, you as an employee have the right to draw boundaries. You don’t even necessarily have to escalate things to HR — at least, not immediately. If your boss is clueless, instead of malicious, he or she will back off once you’ve graciously declined the invitation.
If that doesn’t work, then you can think about whether you need to go up the chain in order to protect yourself, or whether the culture of your company is such that you’d be better off looking for another job. Regardless, it’s important to remember that you are not required to put up with inappropriate behavior, just because the boss can’t or won’t do better. You have the right to be comfortable at work.
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