Friday, March 06, 2009

Respect mah workplace!

(First off - Alli, thanks for the WOT recommendation. I added it on to Firefox and hopefully it will help.)

We have a new administration on my campus. With that comes new challenges. One of which is that there are people who apparently think faculty and staff do not have enough to do.

There are all these MEETINGS. Meetings on wellness, meetings on alumni issues, bla bla bla. So far I've been immune (thanks to my teaching overload, I'm in class practically all the time people choose to have meetings).

But this week, another one came down the pike:

"Lessons for a Respectful Workplace."

It's an anti-sexual harassment (and anti-other harassment, I guess) workshop. So far we have not been required to go (and anyway, I am in class for both the sessions). But everyone in my department has had the same response to the announcement:

(furrowed brow) "Why do we need this? I've never seen anyone be disrespectful in this department and I've never felt disrespected."

My secretary (and no, before you ask, she does NOT want to be called an 'administrative assistant') says that she feels the same way. She did observe, "From what I've heard, there are places on campus where the workplace is not very respectful."

But in my department, we all pretty much like each other. We're all pretty sane, and the quirks and fidgets we have are pretty much tolerable, or, we can write them off as, "Well, I've got weird things about me that surely bug other people."

Only one time in the department did I ever feel someone showed disrespect to me - and that was someone who was leaving, and apparently burning his bridges as he went. He told one of my colleagues that he was "incompetent" (this being someone who has written two textbooks), he told another guy that he was "lazy," and he told me I had "anger issues" (because I got irritated with him ONCE, three years previously, because he did not fill out some paperwork for a project we were doing together by the due date).

But anyway - that's water under the bridge because dude is long gone, and he won't ever be back, not with what he said to us. (I think he said stuff to other people but my two colleagues were the only ones that I heard about).

So in my department, the "respect" thing quickly became a joke. We either say to each other, "ooooh, that doesn't sound like a very Respectful Workplace" or "But you're not Respecting my Workplace!" in a doleful, Eeyore-ish tone.

And then we laugh. Because the "not respectful" stuff is usually the stupid stuff that comes up - someone sends a terse e-mail, or a student expects to be given a make-up exam at a time that's impossibly bad for the prof, or something.

(Actually, we better be careful. It would not be wise to make a Respectful Workplace joke if one of the administrators happens to be in earshot).

But really, that's how we deal with a lot of stuff - with humor. Because it seems to be that when people begin to take themselves or stuff too seriously, that's when lawyers get run to. Or when the person, instead of going, "What do you mean by that?" when someone makes a silly offhand comment, go to their supervisor to get the commenter in trouble.

And to me, that seems like a cowardly way to operate. I was taught, if you have a gripe with someone, you go talk to them face-to-face first. Because, in my experience, 90% of the stuff that sounds "bad" falls into one of three categories:

a. the person made a joke and it came out really wrong and wasn't funny. And then they apologize when you ask them about it, you laugh and forgive them, and everything's cool.

b. you misunderstood them, or they didn't express them well. Then they explain it, it makes sense, and everything's cool.

c. they were in a bad mood when they said it. They apologize to you, admit that an apology and explanation don't excuse the remark, you say, "No problem, we all have bad days," and everything's cool.

In the rare cases where you feel there's some hostility, you can get a neutral third party to sit in - but I was always taught the honorable thing to do was to ask the person FIRST, before going over their head, to the lawyer, whatever, because most of this stuff is easily cleared up, and even if it isn't, it's only fair to give the person a chance to make it right.

So that's why I'm so puzzled by the whole Respectful Workplace thing. I mean, the people like my colleagues who already live it, don't need to have their time wasted. And the people who might run off to lawyers - or who might be rude, coarse, retaliative, whatever - sitting through an hourlong presentation won't change them.

I'm guessing a university somewhere in our system is being sued for being a Hostile Workplace and we're all catching it as the regents swoop in to do CYA. But still, it's annoying to be told, "You will sit in a room and we will spend two hours telling you how you are expected to behave."


Kate P said...

Ugh. Sounds like the ridiculous anti-bullying programs at school. Seriously, "No place for hate"? It's got "hate" in the title--just sounds wrong. It's elementary school.

Alli said...

No problem! Hope it helps. :-)