What if you had Donald Trump as a boss?
President-elect Trump won our election fair and square within our system of democracy. Even if you liked his style and are a Trump supporter besides, you cannot deny that he ran his entire campaign exhibiting Class A, typecast bully behavior.
This may lead one to ask: Is this the new paradigm of acceptable behavior in the workplace today?
From his constant barrage of insults and attacks on his opponents (and anyone else in his wake) on through his disrespectful and unapologetic attitude (both alleged and documented) toward women and minorities, Trump ran true to form to a bully personification. The message was clear: if you don’t agree with me — you’re not only wrong, you’re history!
Even though one could claim this was “campaign mode” based on his Celebrity Apprentice playbook, he was still applying for top employer in the free world. Do bosses now have a new role model?
In a word, no! We have made great strides in combating harassing behavior in the working environment. Today, if an employee (at any level of responsibility) exhibited such disrespectful conduct, the gears would be set in motion for that individual to be corrected, disciplined and maybe even fired. And, if it was a CEO who owned the business, the situation still could escalate into a hostile and costly environment.
Employees can take heart. We have safeguards in place today and they will not be revoked. We have an established anti-harassment law with teeth in it, specific policies and guidelines in place, along with ongoing awareness training and, most importantly, swift consequences for poor behavior. Corporate America has embraced the harassment-free workplace and is not reversing its position.
This does not mean, however, that we should not remain focused and vigilant in our efforts to maintain such an environment. Stacey DeKalb, who heads the employment law practice at Minneapolis-based Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, says, “HR managers found themselves cringing as they observed Trump’s campaign behavior thinking perhaps employees might start to believe they have license now to follow suit.” DeKalb believes, however, this will result in organizations proactively emphasizing their established Codes of Ethics/Conduct, Mission Statements and policies — benefiting us all.
Costs to management
One of the reasons Corporate America is taking the respectful working environment seriously is the high cost of harassment of any kind. Unchecked, the effects are increased stress, lower self-esteem and poor productivity among the abused, which in turn damage any organization’s effectiveness, stability and profitability. The costs rise incrementally when victims fight back because the employer allowed the situation to exist or persist.
Harassing behaviors tend to be combinations of the following: sexual harassment, verbal harassment, physical harassment and emotional harassment (the latter often referred to as “bullying below the radar”). Some behaviors can be argued as legally actionable and some cannot. However, harassment of any kind is illegal if it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Then, you may quickly go down the rabbit hole of legal action.
Regardless, if any such behavior dominates an environment, fresh ideas are eliminated and employees are reduced to “yes people” who keep their heads down and their mouths shut. This may work in the short run — but not the long run (think Wells Fargo).
If bullying behavior is tolerated, the company is damaged from the inside out by chewing up its people. Add to that, if employees have not already headed for the exits, there is the “I quit but I forgot to tell you” syndrome: employees show up for work physically, but check out mentally and emotionally — further draining a company’s progress.
It’s a fact of business life that employees will never have the same power that their bosses have. But, this does not mean they don’t have any power.
No professional can operate with blinders on. If you encounter or witness bully behavior, you have a responsibility to follow your company’s procedures regarding a harassment complaint.
What you do not get to do is look the other way and/or (even worse) suffer your own circumstance in silence. Remember the frightening words of the German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “You become what you tolerate!”
Unfortunately, there will always be huffing and puffing bosses and, also, ethically impaired peers who actually believe their browbeating intimidation tactics achieve legitimate business objectives. But, organizations today are working hard to keep their employees safe and avoid the costly “hostile working environment.”
Jim Smith, recently retired men’s basketball coach at St. John’s University, attests to this: “I had zero tolerance for any type of bullying or hazing. My kids were taught to respect their teammates and opponents because negativity can only breed negativity.” In Smith’s 51 years of coaching sports, only one student failed to graduate.
How President-elect Trump treats his own employees is an unknown to us, and how he chooses to govern as our president remains to be seen. Hopefully, he does not parody his campaign bully behavior. But, what is known is — he does not get to redefine and redesign what is and what is not considered acceptable behavior in the workplace today.
Now is the time for us to dial up our best professional selves. We all have a responsibility to maintain a harassment-free working environment by respecting those around us — at any level of responsibility.
It’s just the right thing to do.
Nan DeMars is president of Executary Services, an ethics training, search and consulting firm in Edina.