Opinion | HR’s Long Overdue #MeToo Moment
Here is a story about a former work colleague. I will refer to him as “Tim.” Tim was an old-school senior executive with a brash personality. Employees were often cornered by him and one could often hear the groaning in the hallways after hearing his jokes that usually crossed a line.
Tim especially liked “entertaining” the women in the office. I was no exception. We were executive peers, however, so I felt I had more power to simply tell him when his jokes were sad, and I tried to say so in a way that wouldn’t leave permanent scars. I liked Tim. Tim liked me. We got on just fine.
One afternoon in the coffee room, three of us were talking about an upcoming, out-of-town conference for the executive team: Tim, myself and the head of Human Resources, “Sue.”
Tim made some smarmy comments about the proximity of my hotel room to his and made salacious comments about his intentions with me late at night. I swiftly shot back a comment along the lines of “keep dreaming, buddy.” He laughed. I rolled my eyes and left the coffee room. Didn’t think twice about it.
What came next shocked me. I was called into HR by Sue. I was “scolded” for my comments to Tim. I was warned not to encourage his inappropriate behavior. “Sue, you were there. You heard him. Have you spoken to Tim?” “No. You know his temper. And you know how he is. I don’t want to aggravate him.” My head almost spun off my neck.
HR held me responsible for another adult employee’s inappropriate behavior. In truth, HR did not have the courage or political presence to take on this executive.
Sadly, this is not the only story I have regarding inappropriate behavior in the workplace. And with most of the stories, I was shocked at the clumsiness of HR’s handling of the situation. In fact, it was HR’s ineptitude that directly contributed to me leaving the organization to take another job.
Personally, I am not surprised at the avalanche of complaints that have come to light with the #MeToo movement. It was time.
Revealed through the movement have been weak or absent HR functions that help foster a breeding ground for troublesome behaviors. Victims accuse HR of not adequately dealing with complaints. They often further claim that HR staff have covered for or even aided harassers.
Victims claimed HR seemed to care more about protecting the corporate image and the employers’ practices liability line item. #MeToo, I agree.
So, it is good to see HR undergo a makeover now. Processes and policies are under review in the wake of widespread revelations of toxic behaviors at organizations of every size. Under review are anti-harassment, retaliation policies, reporting and investigation procedures.
HR is working overtime to step up awareness and compliance training efforts. In fact, requests for trainings have increased threefold since 2017. Organizations are reaching out to independent firms to perform workplace culture audits, risk assessments and provide whistleblower and reporting services.
In fairness, there is only so much HR can do. A long, hard look at management is due, especially the management that is often engaged in bad behaviors themselves.
Acceptable workplace behavior — that tone is set by management. All training, audits and fixes are inconsequential if management doesn’t live and breathe good behavior everyday. #YouTooTim. &