Fifty Shades of Grey…an Office FIELD TRIP! Really?

50 Shades of Grey Office Field Trip Post Image by Anderson-davis, Inc.

A male supervisor took all of the women in his office to lunch, drinks included, and then to see the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. This work situation was forwarded to me by a friend of mine in HR. He read about it in the Dear Prudence column and he asked my thoughts about this supervisor’s field trip.

I think the root cause of this legal minefield is that supervisor’s employer! Why? Because the employer did not teach this supervisor the skills he needed to understand and to apply his company’s sexual harassment policy, i.e., ‘to monitor the workplace and to stop behavior prohibited by the employer’s anti-harassment policy, even if no complaint.’ If he had received effective prevention and resolution-skills sexual harassment training, the idea of taking his employees on a movie field trip would never have occurred to him, because he would have stopped the women’s Fifty Shades of Grey conversations back when the book was first published.

I’ll use excerpts from Dear Prudence’s Q & A to explain what I mean and then offer a coaching moment for all managers and supervisors:

Q. “Fifty Shades of Inappropriate: My boss took all the women in the office to see Fifty Shades of Grey. All of us liked the book and had often expressed excitement about the movie …“

In 2011, the year Fifty Shades of Grey was published; many workplaces were filled with conversations about the book’s content; frequently as graphic as the book’s erotic scenes. While delivering sexual harassment training, I coached supervisors on how to intervene and to stop those types of sexual conversations, even when no complaint has been made. Furthermore, I assisted employers in clarifying to all employees how sexual conversations, whether about a movie, TV program or book were always prohibited by the company’s sexual harassment policy, even if welcome by everyone in a work group/team. After training over 140,000 employees, and listening to their stories about sexual/unlawful harassment, retaliation and abusive conduct, I believe that some women in the Dear Prudence office had detailed sometimes-graphic conversations of its sexual content, even adding a few personal experiences. This situation then escalated, as many often do, because the supervisor’s field trip created a legal risk for his company and a potentially hostile work environment for his employees. The enterprise risk occurred because the supervisor did not receive training that helped him understand what was prohibited by his employer’s sexual/unlawful harassment policy as well as his responsibility to intervene and to stop sexual conversations, even if they seemed welcome by everyone in the office.

“He thinks of his employees as his friends and assumes we feel the same.”

This is probably the case with some women in that office. They assumed that all of the other women, who they also see as friends, feel the same as they do and welcome conversations about the book’s and the movie’s erotic content. But rarely does everyone in a workplace share the same comfort level with listening to and participating in sexual conversations, jokes and innuendoes. The fact is that at least one, if not more of the women who were uncomfortable, will ‘go along to get along.’ That ‘go along to get along’ psychological dynamic also applies to men in all-male workplaces who don’t want to hear profanity, stories about their boss’s sexual conquests, and raunchy jokes.

“How can I make him (the supervisor) see that he crossed a line (by inviting the women in the office to the movie) without making him feel bad?”

Ironically this is often the same worry that supervisors have when they observe one of their employees behaving in a way that is prohibited by the employer’s sexual harassment policy.

FIVE Personal Awareness & Intervention Coaching Moments for Supervisors:
First – Understand and accept that your employer expects you to monitor the workplace and to stop prohibited behavior you observe and or hear about.

Second – Recognize what has and or would dissuade you from telling an employee to stop his/her prohibited behavior.

Third – Identify the negative impacts that that prohibited behavior can/does have on employees, the harasser and your professional reputation if you don’t intervene.

Fourth – Focus on the benefits of supervising a respectful and harassment-free work environment.

Fifth – Apply the following intervention process if you observe prohibited behavior:

1. In private, objectively describe the prohibited behavior you observed and identify the policy that prohibits it.

2. Focus on behavior, not the reason or intention the person had for his/her behavior.

3. Ask for and receive his/her commitment to stop.

4. Document your conversation with the employee.

5. Contact HR (an organizational memory best practice.)

FYI: A couple of reasons for contacting HR is to assist them in identifying pattern harassers and to ensure that your verbal warning is consistent with how similar situations have been addressed throughout the organization.

Please contact me with your thoughts and or questions about what I’ve written; also if you would like information/pricing about my online, video and live training solutions on sexual and unlawful harassment, workplace retaliation, workplace bullying prevention, conducting objective investigations and healing workplaces impacted by harassment investigations.

Stephen F. Anderson of Anderson-davis, Inc. Toll Free: (888) 789-7891
‘The United State’s most experienced sexual harassment prevention trainer/consultant.’*

*Since 1980, Stephen F. Anderson has facilitated in-house training to over 140,000 employees in the private, public, academic and military sectors in the United States and across the globe, including Panama, Canada, Kazakhstan and Thailand. Since 1984 Mr. Anderson has been retained as an expert/consulting witness by defense and plaintiff counsel in sexual harassment and sex discrimination cases. He wrote the 300pp “How to effectively manage sexual harassment investigations”, published by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Since 1987 Stephen has written award winning video-based and online compliance and diversity workplace training solutions that have been delivered to over 4 million employees.

Stephen Anderson’s sexual harassment training and expertise has been featured on 20/20, News Station (TV Asahi, Japan), Headlines on Trial, Good Morning America and Oprah.

UNIQUE AB 1825 Expertise: In June of 2005 Stephen was appointed to California’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Commission that reviewed and drafted the state’s harassment training regulations, and his online and live training solutions were selected to deliver AB 1825 compliant training to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission’s supervisors, staff and the State Commissioners.

Stephen F. Anderson is a member of SHRM, PIHRA, and NCHRA.