Written by: Shani Fowler
Someone paying us a few compliments is quite nice, more than that for me – it’s quite rare! It can brighten our day and give us a little ego boost. But unwelcome and unwanted attention is quite a different kettle of fish; especially if this attention is from someone in the workplace.
In other walks of life we might be able to ignore and disregard those who choose to make inappropriate advances or comments. We might only see them socially on occasion or pass them in the street from time to time, it can result in being nothing more than an annoyance. But at work this isn’t always possible. At work we’re likely to be regularly in their presence and have to interact with them on a daily basis.
We have probably all squirmed at some point over an inappropriate comment or joke made at work, there are always those co-workers who seem oblivious to knowing the boundaries and they blunder on regardless! But when unsuitable behaviour persists, worsens or makes you feel uncomfortable or even unsafe, it must be addressed.
How do we know – are we overreacting?
Unwanted attention might appear quite subtle and innocent at first, nothing too much to worry about, but things can escalate quite quickly; comments, questioning and even actions – it can all feel confusing. The acid test is if it making your feel uneasy. It has to be unwelcome and unwanted attention.
What can we do?
Don’t ignore – we spend a lot of our time at work and situations cannot be allowed to get out of hand. It has to be nipped in the bud. Many may choose to play down the inappropriate behaviour for fear of causing a fuss, especially if it is from the hierarchy! Many hope that the matter will just slide away, but it would be a mistake to do this.
Don’t ignore the signs as it is only likely to spiral further. If you don’t react in some way the culprit could think you were okay with the attention, even enjoying it and read it completely wrong.
Tackle the person
Firstly, if you believe that someone is beginning to overstep the mark, make your disinterest known by speaking with them directly. It may be hard to do, but it is essential. Remain calm, let them know that you are not interested and you feel their behaviour has become unacceptable and unprofessional and ask them to stop.
What if it continues?
Quite often an initial word with the culprit will work – they might have innocently not even realised how their behaviour had affected you. If however it doesn’t stop, you must report it to your manager or supervisor as an official complaint.
Document events – keep a diary of actions and comments made towards you with accurate dates and times, noting exactly what was said, also stating your response. This can be very helpful should it be required for future reference.
Don’t feel bad or change your behaviour, it’s often human nature to blame ourselves but someone else’s behaviour is not your fault. You have a right to be respected. Ask yourself ‘would I speak or behave like that?’ If not, then it’s unacceptable.
What if it becomes worse?
If the behaviour worsens and causes problems outside of the work environment or you believe you are being stalked and your safety is being compromised, then you must also report the issue to the Police. Again, maintaining a diary of evidence is essential. Hopefully, once the matter is in the hands of authorities a definitive end to the matter will result.
Men get harassed too!
Although we associate harassment in the workplace being against women, it isn’t exclusively women that are harassed – it happens to men too, the same rules apply with dealing with it. It is essential that it is any unwelcome attention is addressed; even if it feels compromising because it is being brought about by someone senior or long-standing in the organisation or your own manager. It doesn’t matter it who is causing it, address it, speak up and make sure it is documented and dealt with as swiftly as possible. Attention that makes you uncomfortable is not acceptable.