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A Real-life Workplace Policies Guide for Professionals

At the beginning of each school year, students are given checklists to help them to succeed during the academic year. After 10 years of being a professor, however, I have decided to create a “Real-life Workplace Policies Guide for Professionals,” particularly for individuals working  in the academy. My thoughts and suggestions align with the work of Phillips and Hall, who explore five biases pushing Women of Color out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers). This guide is one that you can bookmark on your computer as you encounter situations that you’ve never had to navigate before, particularly in the workplace, an environment where most people spend the majority of their time during their working years.


Workplace Bullying

One of my higher education experiences with bullying occurred when, as a faculty member, I offered my perspective about ways to diversity my workplace to a senior administrator at my institution. Although numerous staff at this institution wanted to express similar views about ways to improve efficiency in this particular office, several seemed to be afraid that their views would be perceived as insubordination. As a result, for years, I was one of the few people to challenge this administrator, a person who isolated people who did not agree with her and who created a clique among minorities at the institution.

Although many people may think that bullying starts and stops in elementary or high school, the reality is that bullying often occurs in the workplace. This may occur when you express unpopular views or when you refuse to comply with pre-set standards. Although Human Resources policies might be in place in your workplace, people may be afraid to report injustices or to enforce these policies. If you are being bullied in the workplace, document the dates of these occurrences along with details about what is occurring. If interactions are making you uncomfortable, don’t ignore your concerns. Follow proper protocol (i.e., research organizational policies), and always remember that you do have a right to work in a safe, productive environment. If the system at your workplace is ineffective, consider seeking outside legal counsel to address your workplace concerns.

Public Humiliation

Similar to workplace bullying, public humiliation has no place on the job. Unfortunately, some people only know how to get their points across by shaming or isolating others. This might include ridiculing a person who dares to speak out again injustices or an individual creating a culture of fear such that a person will no longer have the boldness to express his/her opinions in public. Once again, you have a right to work in an environment where you can voice your perspective, even if you are the only person with that particular perspective. If someone is trying to shut you down, examine why that person is doing that. If you feel safe doing so, talk to that person face-to-face about your concerns with an understanding that this person may not admit that a problem exists. If you do not feel safe talking to that person by yourself, use an audio recording device to record your conversation with that person (inform the person of your intention to do this first), or ask a neutral party or trained mediator in the organization to attend a meeting with you and that person. If you are unsure about whether you are overreacting to a situation, engage with colleagues who witnessed your incident so that you can gauge whether your interpretation of the incident is accurate.

Veiled or Actual Threats

More often than not, I have heard faculty talk about feeling unsafe around colleagues or students. In the midst of these situations, many people don’t respond appropriately. When I was the director of a program for students at my institution, a graduate student lurked around my office but never made an appointment to discuss his concerns with me. He did, however, approach numerous other colleagues with his perspective about injustices that were done to him. As a result, confusion ensued across multiple departments and people, and the situation with this student got out of hand. After going through proper channels, reporting his suspicious behavior and threatening e-mails, and still obtaining no closure to this situation, I realized that people have their own reasons (not all of them justified, however) for not following proper protocol or for not wanting to address workplace problems. If you feel threatened by anyone in your workplace, don’t try to handle the situation yourself. Document occurrences, and call the police if this person is speaking of harming you or if the person is behaving in a suspicious manner.

In conclusion, remember the following:

  1. Many people don’t like confrontation and are not willing to address problems. If you follow proper protocols and nothing is done in a timely manner, continue to report incidents until someone listens. If you feel threatened, call the police immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry. This is your right.

  2. You should not have to work in a workplace that makes you uncomfortable. If someone is treating you unfairly or is denying you access to information or resources, report this. Although a fear of retaliation is a possibility within your environment, you can choose to be silent and ignored or visible and disliked. Dreading your work environment should not be a norm.

  3. If you have done all that you can done to addresses the issues within your environment, consider looking for another job. There is so much work to do to help others who want to benefit from your skills and talents, and if you spend the majority of your professional time trying to convince people in your workplace to do the right thing, you might not impact the people who are meant to benefit from your gifts. There is nothing like working in a place where your values align with your organization. Dig deep to see whether that is occurring, and do what you need to do to work in a happy, productive place.

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