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  • Writer's pictureBobbi K Dominick

Did You Know? Leaders Behaving Badly=Higher Chance of a #MeToo Problem

Wait, you say, how does that work? Just because leaders treat people badly, complaints about workplace harassment will come?

But, you say, I thought that just yelling at people and calling them names, in general being disrespectful, doesn’t equate to the legal definition of harassment (although it might qualify for bad boss of the year)?

You might say, well, it doesn’t necessarily follow that bad treatment=harassment claims.

Allow me to explain.

The research we have already (more should be done) indicates that there is a direct correlation between how people are treated in the workplace and the incidence of harassment. I call this an ambient culture that allows disrespect, and the research supports the conclusion that if you allow people to behave badly, that gives permission to those who will do the bad stuff that will get you in 1. hot water, 2. maybe in the paper, and 3. most certainly in court.

A 2005 study by Lim and Cortina at the University of Michigan looked at the connection between incivility in the workplace and sexual harassment. They defined incivility as emotional abuse, bullying, generalized workplace abuse, and included such behaviors as verbal aggression (swearing, name calling), disrespect (interruption, public humiliation) and isolation. They found a link between the behaviors. Why?

The researchers pointed to several patterns of behavior that might explain these links:

· Sexual harassment is often about power and dominance rather than sex. Those who seek to exert such power and dominance often have a lack of regard for others, the same kind of root cause for uncivil or discourteous behavior.

· Those who are sexually aggressive tend to engage in aggressive behavior in all aspects of their lives, which would include rude or discourteous behavior.

· When gender harassment is involved (demeaning behavior towards a particular gender) it can often be traced to a generalized hostility towards others, which can also appear in incivility.

The result of the studies? Almost all of the women who experienced gender or sexualized harassment has also been subjected to incivility. As the researchers conclude: “It appeared that sexual harassment often took place against a backdrop of generalized disrespect in the workplace.”

Another conclusion? Where management tolerates incivility, management also appears to overlook, or be indifferent to, sexually harassing behaviors. Because workers perceive leaders as “tone deaf” when it comes to bad treatment, their voices are suppressed, and they could react angrily. The #MeToo movement was all about those who were mistreated feeling ignored, and bursting forth when they could not take it anymore. When you have bad stuff happening in your workplace, and no one is doing anything about it, you, too, could have a #MeToo moment. So it is better to control the mistreatment, bullying, and set a standard of respect, than to sit back and wait for the explosion.

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