A friend was telling me about how he thinks his company has gone overboard trying to meet the current standards of political correctness. One person is being asked to take down a poster with some minor nudity. A manager is being strongly guided to watch his language. My friend says everyone says they're fine with it so HR should ease up.
I cringed. I could see both sides. I didn't know what to suggest. So I gave up listening like a guy, trying to offer suggestions, and I listened like a woman and did a lot of cringing.
I remember feeling similarly when I worked daily in the corporate world. The environment became sterile and lifeless - and maddening. Given that I crossed paths with at least 100 people a day, I couldn't possibly know all their sensitivities and be sure that any comment I made was going to go over without perceived insult or some misinterpretation I couldn't even imagine. So I tried to keep things factual, which really kept the humanness out of work.
But then there was this guy who liked to look at porn at work. He thought that his cube was his personal space and not subject to any of these HR rules. I had to visit him often to ask many short questions about his code. For me, seeing the porn he had on his screen brought up pain. I empathized with those caught in sex trafficking, in the sex trade and porn business against their wishes, I felt for the comfort women, for kids having to deal with sexual abuse, it went on and on. I tried not to look and to remember why I was in his cube in the first place. But it made it harder for me to do my job.
And then there were the people who really had no clue how racist or sexist their comments came across.
I can imagine others objecting for different reasons, not that it matters too much. And it's kind of a cheap sum-up to say companies exist to get work done. But I think they are there to get work done. I would argue that doing it humanely since it is humans who are doing the work, it's also within their interests - or at least should be. Related to my friend's specific complaints, it is also a common human behavior that someone who has lesser status than another may not have the strength or guts to speak up and say they aren't comfortable and risk their job.
So how do you draw the line? In my experience, most people don't have the skills or inclination to discuss the issue and resolve it themselves or with a mediator. We haven't reached a tipping point or critical mass around that behavior to see it go viral. So companies do the expedient thing and decree a certain decorum of behavior that some of us feel is lifeless.
I can imagine one answer - highly improbable although maybe the only way this will change - we on the outside of companies change. This in turn changes the inside. So hey - a round of electronic doilies for all!
more conversations up on Facebook at The People's Doily