How to Work and Prosper in a Post #MeToo World


#MeToo. #Ibelievethewomen. #TimesUp.

The times they are a changin’. And not a minute too soon. But how should we comport ourselves in a post #MeToo environment?

When I first completed drafting my thoughts for this article, a colleague asked me a basic question: Why are you only addressing males– doesn’t everyone have an obligation to comport themselves appropriately in the workplace? In so doing, she challenged my entire thought process about this issue. As she so articulately stated: Equal Opportunity/Equal Treatment = Equal Responsibility.

So, here’s the thing… this stuff is complicated by many factors, some of which are gender dependent, but some of which are not. When we come to work in the morning, we bring our personalities with us, for better or worse. We will like some co-workers and we won’t like others. We may be attracted to some of our co-workers and repelled by others. It’s human nature, which is complicated to begin with, and when people come together in the workplace, things get even more complicated. That was true long before the #MeToo movement days.

There are behavior dos and don’ts that haven’t changed either. For instance, it’s not okay, nor has it ever been okay, to touch someone without his/her consent. No duh! It’s also not okay, and never has been okay, to engage in any activity that makes someone feel threatened or uncomfortable. And it’s perfectly acceptable to compliment colleagues for their work product or their work ethic, or even tell them you like their new car. Those are the easy ones. How about the gray areas? Is it okay to tell a mildly off-color joke? Is it okay to go out for a drink with a colleague after work? If co-workers get sad news while at work and are understandably upset, is it okay to give them a hug?

Here are some guidelines to follow:

• When in doubt, do without. If you need to think about whether it’s okay to put your arm around someone or tell a joke, don’t do it. In the first place, the risk is too great. But, more importantly, there is simply no good personal or business reason to do something that could offend someone.

• When power is uneven, you shouldn’t be leavin’. Leaving the office together to head out for dinner or a drink, that is. If you are in a boss/subordinate relationship, avoid putting yourself in a potentially precarious situation. You may have all good intentions, but things may take a turn before you have the chance to fully comprehend the consequences. As a friend of mine often says: “The best way to avoid a barroom brawl is to stay out of the bar.”

• Make sure you know before you go. Go in for a hug, that is. Be sure to fully understand the relationship you have with the person with whom you are interacting. If you’ve worked with someone for 20 years and routinely hug on birthdays and holidays, then, by all means, console them with a hug if they tell you they’ve just received bad news. But, if it’s someone you don’t know that well or don’t have that kind of relationship with, then refrain from physical contact of any kind.

So, yes, it’s a brave new world. As we work our way through this thicket, remember that when change occurs, the pendulum often swings hard and far at first, before settling into its final resting place somewhere closer to the middle. If you’re struggling a bit in understanding exactly what Equal Responsibility means, let’s talk. I’ve written many a company policy manual on this very topic, so let me know if you need help getting out of the weeds!