June 19, 2024
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Opinion: Make good workplace behavior the norm


By Loredana Carson

Sometimes it takes a law to get people to change their behavior, and sometimes even that is not enough.

Consider AB 2053. Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, it enacted legal ramifications for failing to comply with requirements that companies with 50 or more employees offer education and training designed to prevent abusive behavior in the workplace.

Think about this for a minute. Workplace behavior is so bad that legislators spent time writing a law requiring businesses to educate their employees on how to behave so as to avoid legal problems. In truth, the laws in the workplace are the same as the laws in the schoolyard, albeit with older individuals.

A prior law, AB 1825, had already spelled out in detail that employers must provide a minimum of two hours of training and education designed to prevent sexual harassment but that didn’t go far enough.  Bullying behavior at work has become a big enough problem that it required its own law to get businesses to begin the process of educating their workforce to recognize, report and discourage bad behavior.

Most people I discuss this topic with are not bullies, but everyone can tell you about a time they witnessed bad behavior in the workplace. Many people, some say one in four, have experienced bullying personally. The goal of these two pieces of legislation is to eliminate or at least reduce behavior that demeans, diminishes, defames or belittles anyone in the workplace.

Technically, small businesses are not required to comply with the legislation in order to prevent overburdening them. But common sense tells you that they should not ignore the concepts articulated in these laws for multiple reasons.

One, they may cross the threshold sooner rather than later if the business is successful, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Two, it is the right thing to do. Even if they do not present two hours of training, small businesses can adopt good policies that explicitly prohibit any act that could be construed as bullying. They could also implement a policy that explicitly states that all people will be treated with respect and dignity and in a civil manner.

In both cases, large and small companies face similar realities. Just putting something into law or writing a policy does not change people’s behavior.

So, what can everyone do to combat this problem?

By taking individual responsibility for contributing to workplace dignity and respect, each person in any size workplace can become part of the solution. Probably the most important steps a person can take are to become aware of what types of behavior contribute to the problem and speak up if bullying behavior comes into your own view.

It is difficult to get bullies to change unless the behavior is called out and shunned. Often, bullies get attention and power from their behavior and have no incentive to stop.

This is often the case with entrenched behavior that is viewed as acceptable because everyone does it, such as making demeaning remarks about women, a specific ethnic group or anyone with an LGBT identification.

If this behavior is tolerated by the silent, it becomes the standard. If the silent become vocal and object, it can lead to change.

Bullies have complex psychological issues. It is not the job of co-workers to psychoanalyze bullies or act as their apologists. But by being aware and speaking up, whether it is directly to the bully or indirectly to the human resources team, employees can take small proactive steps to making this behavior go the way of the dinosaur.

Then our legislators can spend time making laws about other problems facing our nation.

• Loredana Carson is a lecturer in the California Lutheran University School of Management.