Workplace Etiquette in the Time of #metoo


By EmployDiversity


Almost everyone can think of an awkward encounter they’ve either witnessed or been a part of at a company function. Whether it’s the annual Christmas party or a summer barbeque, we’ve all seen people who have lost their inhibitions and embarrassed themselves or someone else. In extreme circumstances, inappropriate behavior can result in harassment lawsuits and shattered lives.

With the #metoo movement, many people are uncertain of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Everyone is on high alert and there’s never been a better time to learn the parameters of acceptable workplace behavior. These five essential rules of workplace behavior apply as much to the CEO as they do to the custodian:

1. Keep your hands off.

It is safe to assume that your colleague does not want to be touched unless they explicitly say otherwise. No cheek kisses, no butt pats, no back claps in congratulations. A handshake is the only acceptable type of touching between colleagues.

2. Remember to listen.

Look for and listen to non-verbal and verbal communication. If someone is telling you that your behavior is offensive or unwelcome, apologize. Women particularly are hesitant to address inappropriate behavior verbally, so men need to look for non-verbal communication clues. Consider whether the person you’re talking to looks uncomfortable. Are they putting space between you? Are their arms crossed? Are they leaning away? Tune into these verbal cues to understand what the other person might not be saying with their words.

3. Keep your excesses in check.

Alcohol consumption is no excuse for inappropriate behavior, but it certainly can be an instigator.  Have respect for others around you and be conscious of how much you consume. Apologies after the fact do not erase memories or bad behavior.

4. See something? Say something.

If you see inappropriate behavior or overhear an offensive conversation, speak up.  You don’t have to be judgmental or confrontational. Simply saying, “Hey, this is a place of work where everyone should feel comfortable” is a powerful statement. By not saying anything, you’re being a passive participant in the offensive behavior.

5. Be cautious of compliments.

Commenting on someone’s shirt or shoes can sometimes be a starting point for a conversation. It’s advisable to keep compliments work-focused and avoid compliments related to someone’s appearance. Instead of “that’s a nice dress”, try “that was a great presentation you gave the other day”. Alternatively, you can steer clear of compliments entirely.

There are plenty of things to talk about if you just need a conversation starter.  

#metoo has put people’s professional behavior under the microscope. It is easy to become obsessed and worried about what’s acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior. Ultimately, proper workplace etiquette is simple: it’s about respect, common sense, and equal treatment for men and women.