Office harassment can exist in many forms. It almost always involves a form of power play, such as a dominant colleague or boss bullying you; it basically constitutes aggressive behavior that demeans your basic rights as a human being, whether this behavior is aggressively sexual or outright aggression. The more common form is sexual in nature: the typical “maginoo pero medyo bastos” coworker can come off strong with a lot of dirty jokes, sexist remarks, and anything from borderline flirting to outright lewd comments. Unwelcome and repeated touching and asking for sexual favors in return for promotion or advancement are categorized as a higher degree of harassment—this should never be shrugged off or ignored as this behavior can lead to further violations if unchecked.
Below are a few tips on how to deal with such situations and emerge a stronger woman:
Let your feelings be known.
Using definitive words such as “Stop!” or “No, I don’t like it!” to show your discomfort should put the harasser in proper perspective. Timid ways of saying these will not get your message across, and smiling or laughing will not help either. Your body language should match the verbal messages.
Talk to your colleagues; chances are you are not alone.
A sexual harasser is usually a repeat offender, acting out malicious behavior any time he can get away with it. You are not the first, and you will not be the last. As such, you must voice your protest to this kind of behavior and log the incident(s) with your union (if your office has one), or speak to your boss about it. If your immediate superior is the one who is harassing you, elevate the complaint to a higher officer in charge. The HR department should have a grievance center to receive cases like these, and all reports must be treated fairly and promptly.
Understand when others are just joking, but speak up when the joke’s turned sour.
Green and dirty jokes abound, and it’s a common tool to bridge friendships in the workplace. However, a joke that makes you feel uncomfortable should be a warning sign. You can subvert the joke and divert the topic, but not everyone is gifted with such skills. Remaining a professional is the safest way, and you should voice your displeasure at such jokes by clearly stating when you feel something is out of line or has gone beyond the limits of propriety. “That’s not funny anymore,” is a sobering comment—but a necessary one when you’re trying to maintain a relaxed professional atmosphere.
Don’t justify or excuse.
This is the plague of women who grew up with years of being taught Maria Clara is the epitome of a Filipina. The way you dress that day or night, your conversant nature, or your outgoing personality is by no means the reason why you are being harassed! These are never excuses for harassment: don’t believe him if he says you were asking for it or you were just flirting. Flirtations are two-way and lead to a good feeling. If you were just flirting and he was just flirting back, you would feel confident and complimented; on the other hand, harassment makes you feel degraded and helpless, and you’ll feel out of control because he will persist even after you’ve shown you want to stop. So do not be afraid to speak up!
Don’t be afraid to speak out against the boss or the boss’s favorite.
Attentions from people in power are more difficult to challenge. In our non-confrontational culture, women may sometimes feel helpless when they are being harassed by someone who is higher up the office ladder than they are. Strongly inform them about your feelings; say, “Can we please go back to work?” or “My work has nothing to do with what you’re doing/saying.” Remind your bosses of the law protecting you from harassment. That should warn them that you’re serious and starting to take offense. Repeated requests for sexual favors or unwelcome touching should be enough to file a complaint against the offender.
For more information on how to deal with sexual harassment, refer to the articles on the Sexual & Reproductive Health Matters and the Central Michigan University websites.
But workplace harassment doesn’t always come with a sexual connotation. Bullying can also be considered harassment, and these can be harder to enforce. Here are a few tips on how to deal with office bullies, mean girls, and the boss from hell.
It’s all about respect.
Office bullies and “mean girls” have not outgrown their insecurities. Intimidation is their way of getting things done. Raising their voices and cursing over small things are manifestations of a lack of respect for the people they work with, the office environment, and ultimately for themselves. Remind your colleague that the office is not a place of aggression. Explain to the “bully” your displeasure over their actions, and alert your HR department as well.
Dealing with the boss from hell.
Like the mafia, some bosses think they can get away with anything. Power trippers abound, and especially if brown-nosing is not in your vocabulary, doing unreasonable work for these unreasonable bullies can become pure torture. Many employees’ number one reason for leaving their jobs is trouble with their bosses. In these uncertain economic times though, leaving is not an option that everyone has. Try getting an inter-office transfer instead.
It’s never okay, and it will never go away until you take charge!
The saying goes, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s not true. Cruel words can hurt too and can be damaging to your self-esteem. If you feel uncomfortable about certain events in the office, identify the trouble and speak out. Do not let other people rule you. Your rights must be respected, so do not be afraid. The office should be a safe environment for the employees to grow in, and harassment in any form should never be tolerated.
(Photos ©iStockphoto.com/Gabriela Schaufelberger)