In 2001, I worked as and account manager for a software company which dealt with financial services. Normally, the account managers worked onsite for whatever company they were repping, but once a month all managers would go into the office to have a staff meeting.

On September 7,2001, my colleagues and I sat around a conference table. The talk was of our football pool and our co worker M’s new haircut. He had the sides buzzed and left it longish on top, which was a new look for him. This is my lasting memory of M as he died a few days later while consulting at Cantor Fitzgerald located in the World Trade Center. I still remember teasing him about his haircut.

Fast forward to 2021. My Husband works for a large, global, publicly owned company. All employees are required to attend workplace sensitivity training. One of the things that is a no no is commenting on someone else’s appearance. You are not allowed to say “Nice haircut” or “Those are great shoes!” Phrases like these are considered to create a hostile work environment. Making a statement like these would/could get you reported to HR.

I understand that these rules are done to protect people from unwanted sexual advances, and to prevent someone from feeling bad about themselves because they weren’t complimented. I also understand that there is tone involved sometimes, and you can’t really regulate “tone”. You look nice today can be said with a friendly smile or can be said with a breathy voice and leering look. You can’t really regulate how something is said, but you can regulate the words.

Does complimenting someone in the workplace create a hostile environment?

Should there be regulations on what coworkers say to one another?

Should work be 100% about work, with no chit chat or coffee talk?

For the record, my husband says people will still comment about a haircut, because they all think that sometimes the rules go a little too far, but is it right to blatantly disregard a rule/policy that has been set?

Is over regulation the only way to keep things fair and equal insuring that everyone gets treated the exact same way, without anyone saying anything that may in any way, shape, or form be seen as bad or harmful or whatever?

Discuss:

71 thoughts on “Hostile Environment

  1. Being the only man at many of my workplaces over the years I was always extremely careful about what k said. I do think it’s going too far to say you can’t compliment a haircut, but, on the other hand, I would never do that as a man working with women. The women I worked with thought it was dumb, but I didn’t trust the organization not to use it against me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad to hear your husband says they still do it (compliment) These rules kill something important.leaving something sterile in it’s place. There is a place for good natured teasing at work. I think it’s a sign of emotional maturity. And if is a creep that is taking advantage of the situation, then turn them in to HR.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Taking things to extremes is counterproductive. Sexual harassment is obviously wrong. But our society has become so “sensitive” that we can no longer have good intentions of showing kindness. Say thank you ma’am and you might be cussed out for using the wrong “pronoun.” Nice haircut could make the other person feel sexualized. It’s gone too far to the point of ridiculousness and creates division more than harmony.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Seems to me people are carrying things a tad too far these days. I am confused about so many things because the definitions have changed. Surely everyone is not walking around looking for sexual prey? If one cannot smile at / compliment anyone without being suspect, we no longer need to read dystopian fiction. We are living it, and not fiction either.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Craziness! Really? Has it really gone this far? Unbelievable!!!! Ok, I don’t condone workplace advances and tone is key to most things (I say this all the time to my Dutch Hubby about people who “think” they speak good English here but have no idea how their tone is interpreted). I can’t imagine how many work place complaints would be filed in my former professional career if we had to deal with “tone” or compliment issues. Repeating these infractions is harassing but in casual conversation by the water cooler I don’t believe is.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yet…there you have it. Last week my husband was doing his sensitivity training from home. It’s easy to get the right answer to the questions and pass, because the answers are pretty much report the incident to hr…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I look at this as similar to a number of circumstances over the past years. A situation will arise and in order to deal with it procedures and behavior will be greatly modified because “what was being done was totally not right”. Eventually the consensus will be that “now we have gone too far”, and the pendulum will swing back to a point in between, where really we should be.
    Unfortunately, it seems that these days, people get so polarized in their thinking and behavior that the aspect of discussion, compromise and agreement is lost and the pendulum may be destroyed.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You have zeroed in on exactly what I was thinking both in today’s and yesterday’s posts. We try to fix a need and then we go too far, and what do we lose in the interim.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. More folks need to regain the ability to converse, discuss, compromise and reach a solution of benefit to all.
        I am still hopeful that this will happen, however the silent majority are the ones who can make it happen.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. People need to look at themselves and see if their actions match their words. It’s very hard to take stock of yourself. I struggle every day to pair my words with my actions, to watch my own internal dialogue

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, things do sometimes go too far but since I’m older than you and can remember such extreme sexism, bullying, and women that were actually assaulted in workplace settings, that up until recently, it appears that until rules were over enforced, many office situations in varying businesses, or the entertainment field, etc., didn’t change.. Similar to the way the church kept ignoring the abuse of children. Until it was/ is exposed and dealt with, and people are punished, nothing really changes. So I’d rather see people be overly cautious then for anyone to suffer abuse.
        It was so prevalent in the past that I feel it will all normalize eventually. But for now it is still being exposed in parts of the country.
        I once went for a teaching job interview back in the 1970’s and barely got out of an administrator’s office without being raped. I’m serious! It was crazy back then. There was something called the good old boy mentality. I was a new generation of young feminists who spoke out when many Women kept their mouth’s shut back then. I reported this particular guy but it was more than a decade later before the the school board actually fired him.
        So I’m happy actually about these over zealous rules. Women and minorities were treated like garbage for centuries, So what if nobody tells you now that your hair looks nice.
        I don’t think it’s important any more to tell women they look good. That’s not why you are in the work force..
        You can tell a man or a woman that the quality of their work on a project was excellent. But what reason do you need to mention why anyone physically looks good? There’s no reason to do that at work.
        It was sexist to begin with. In a world where women my age were constantly being told how they needed to look, or should look, or how attractive they were, how nice their hair was, how long their legs were or how much weight they should gain or lose bla la bla and you had to ignore all compliments or insults because it was just the way things were done , I think it’s a good thing you can’t personalize someone’s physical traits. Stick to work issue to praise. Or talk about a book you read.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. But what about a woman saying those are great shoes to another woman? I worked on the bond reading floor in the 80s and 90s. 70 women, over a thousand men. I know all,about the crap that went on. The things I heard and saw….people thought I was having sex with my boss because I moved up the ranks. And the accusations were by women. But the problem boils down to what people refer to as common sense and logic, while you think it is common sense to have these rules and regulations, there are going to be many who think it’s stupid. Which brings in what I wrote yesterday. While it seems logical to some that women’s restrooms should be larger, in a sense of fairness and equality, should they?

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I can recall making statements about appearances and realizing afterwards that I could be disciplined for that sort of thing. It’s a little creepy to me. Seems unnatural to enforce that sort of policy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most people won’t really say something when they know there is no intention to be anything other than polite. However…all it takes is one person, and no matter what the intention is….

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It is truly unfortunate that we have to have rules around things like this. Sadly, they are needed because there are just too many people in this world that are creeps that still think it is okay to make suggestive/rude/hateful comments out of what should be a simple compliment or that there are people that have been so beaten down by the people in their life that a simple compliment invokes horrible things for them emotionally. The phrase “this is why we can’t have nice things” applies here. There are always those that will take that extra step outside of what is okay unless you put up massive, obvious guardrails around every single thing because the concept of being a decent human being is beyond them. It may seem like this is over the top and ridiculous, but it has been put in place for a reason and that reason has most likely been because someone was seriously damaged in some way. Decent people are often the ones that get stuck jumping through extra hoops because a**holes exist in this world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I get both sides of this issue. My lasting memory of my co worker is talking about his haircut. I hope that his last memory of me was as a friend and someone nice. I have also told at least one co worker to $#&* off. However…it does bring into play what is fair and equal, what is common sense etc.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You can’t count on enough people to have common sense or to actually use it if they have it. That’s the problem. We have warning labels on products like window cleaner that say “don’t spray in eyes” for a reason. I think we’d be shocked if we realized how many people actually need that warning. Rules like this aren’t really any different and why the need for the “why we can’t have nice things” phrase.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I worked for a country club developer bk in the marketing and PR department. Our VP would pull our bra straps. I used to play racquet ball at lunch and if I played him, he squash me in the corner and keep me there an uncomfortable amount of time. When he left the company, the owner sighed with relief that nobody had sued.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. After struggling to lose weight, now that I am down 70 pounds I welcome people complimenting me on how I look. I believe sometimes we take things a step too far but who is capable of drawing the exact lines?

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Wow! So happy I’m not in corporate America anymore. I had my share of stuff going on when I did work there, but I think that saying something nice, in a kind way, is taking the rule too far. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it leaves such a sad feeling in regards to the now sterile environment of the work force. Why can’t people just be kind and nice?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Hostile ? A compliment ?! I was once the only guy in my department and worked with a woman (who I might add, survived a gun shot wound to the face by an ex…she also has no filter and created a situation that sent my wife to the hospital for a suicide attempt) who day in and day out would bash all men as if we are equal bastards like her ex. That to me is more hostile than “nice haircut”.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I suppose, two different companies doing the same job in 22 years at most between 70-150 people. All ages 20’s-70’s intermixed. I will say there have been some moments of wrong but nothing that has ever stood out to the point of anyone suing. The first company was more liberal, than the current Mormon owned company. Honestly, when the owner of this company was in Pa for a few years more people had a major problem with prayer in the workplace.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. It’s all out of hand. I grew up in a time and place where good manners were taught at home. There was no need to make rules about what you could and couldn’t say. The majority of people KNEW how to behave and didn’t overstep the bounds. We need to return to care and kindness.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You said it perfectly. If everyone treated everyone else with kindness and respect, there would be no need for these ridiculous “sensitivity trainings” that waste employee time and put people on edge. I wish politeness and common sense ruled the day. There have always been individuals that say and do things that they shouldn’t, but why should everyone be punished for that? As you mentioned several times in the comments, LA, perspective and viewpoint do play a huge role.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. To me, I think that kind of rule is too strict as it hampered people the freedom to express their feelings. If I say that “I like somebody dress” and someone feels bad, he feels bad because of his low self-esteem. I think a person that feels bad should walk on her self esteem. Before God, we are all beautifully and wonderfully made, and everything that God creates is beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. It’s a sad world when we can’t say something nice to someone just in case they or someone else listening takes it the wrong way. Soon we will live in a world where no one will look anyone in the eye, offer a word of encouragement or condolence or engage in conversation in fear that it will cause offence. I hope that I am no longer around at that point.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Powerful story.

    I once worked in an office where my boss told me and my collegue off for exchanging hellos and ”how was your weekend” on a Monday morning. The atmosphere was terrible and I quit as soon as I could (I still worked there a year because it’s not always easy getting another job). Everyone was burnt out.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. … and my point was that in her opinion, banter didn’t belong in the office. To me, that was sad because we aren’t machines. Personally, I smile if someone says I look nice today (hasn’t happened in ages!) or compliments my earrings or shoes, etc etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It would be cool to have general rules and then an HR that actually parsed out complaints for sexual harassment, etc.

    Adults should be able to handle someone saying “nice haircut” as a joke about their awful haircut.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Honestly, my belief is if employers (and by extension their HR staff) dealt with complaints about abuse, there would be no need for such ridiculous rulings to be made. The problem is that many complaints taken to HR are swept under the carpet. One personal example – an old boss of mine was a bully. I took it to HR when the abuse he wrote in files about to junior staff about their decisions crossed the line. His handwriting was so awful, I’d be summoned to read it out – in open office – which was distressing for everyone concerned. I was asked whether I really wanted to make it official, as he was old and his wife had cancer. Of course, he was a bully long before either of those things happened, but I was being told in no uncertain terms that the company wanted it to disappear.

    The other thing to mention is that if good guys (which I’m using in a totally non-gender specific way) intervened or called people out whenever they saw creepy or inappropriate behaviour, rules like this wouldn’t be needed. So, before ignoring rules because you think they’re stupid, give some serious thought to what you’ve done to contribute to the situation by your action or lack of it.

    I’ll get off my hobby horse now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I don’t hugely mind a rule banning appearance related compliments in the workplace because a) I hate people who fish for appearance-related compliments in general, and b) I find it weirdly inappropriate to give appearance-related compliments to a man anyway if I’m not in a relationship with him (I’m a woman – I feel like this is a me thing though).

    That said, I feel like this is HR trying to evade the responsibility of actually having to take action against sexual harassers by making ridiculous rules. The people who were going to abuse their power to harass others will just find a different way to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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