“Pre-Thinking” to Thwart Sexual Harassment and Other Problems at Work

If you work in a toxic workplace environment – if you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment, wage and hour violations, racial discrimination, or other bad treatment – you may feel helpless, frustrated and overwhelmed. Many people suffer in silence in terrible environments for months or even years.

“Taking action” is often easier said than done. It takes courage to try to change a bad situation — whether that means talking to someone in HR or taking more extreme measures, like filing a legal action. When you are “in the thick of it” – when you work at a bad workplace – you may consciously “tune out” the mistreatment just to get through the day. Only after you’ve had some perspective – a “wake up call” from a concerned family member or colleague, perhaps — can you really see with clear eyes the injustices that have been perpetrated on you… and perhaps on your colleagues as well.

Why do our instincts for common sense and self preservation often take leave when we encounter these hostile work situations? Why do some of us “freeze up” or “go numb”?

The answers are complex. But a popular article in the Harvard Business Review may hold clues for how to help you “out think yourself,” so that when you do encounter harsh conditions, you will act the way you WANT to act instead of the way that you habitually respond. The basic idea is that you need to pre-think your decisions before you get involved in emotionally tough situations.

The Process
The way you do this is by constructing and rehearsing “if/then” or “when/then” statements. You work out contingencies to prepare yourself. For instance, say you work at a restaurant, and your manager harasses you. Maybe he makes untoward comments about your appearance or comes on to you sexually. Although you find this behavior disgusting, you often try to “brush it off” or “laugh along with him.” But this passive behavior just fuels his aggression and leaves you feeling abused and frustrated. The article suggests that you think through your situation in advance and come up with contingencies like the following:

• If my manager makes a rude or off color sexual joke or comment, then I will tell him that the joke makes me uncomfortable and ask him to stop immediately.
• When the manager flirts with me, then I will ask him to stop and issue him an ultimatum that if he does it again, I am going directly to HR.
• If he doesn’t take me seriously and continues harassing me/making lewd comments, then I will make good on my promise and go directly to HR.
• If HR does not immediately deal with the problem and permanently stop this behavior, then I will find a sexual harassment attorney immediately.

The value of this kind of contingency thinking can be quite profound and liberating. Of course, some workplace situations can be extremely difficult to manage. Fortunately, you can turn to the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP for a free and confidential case evaluation. Explore more about how we’ve helped people like you at www.jhllp.com, or call us at (212) 688-5640.