to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #42 — OVERCOME THE HARM OF FITTING IN (TOO MUCH)
We all want to fit in. In many workplaces, even competitive ones, the idea is to not stand out too much. New employees tend to be concerned about demonstrating competence, but they’re even more concerned about getting along with others and not doing anything stupid.
When I was twenty-one, I had a summer job installing business phones at a company. There, a senior employee named Don told me one day to stop my swearing. He told me I hardly ever cursed when we first met, and he thought I was trying to be “one of the guys” with my newly acquired language. He told me to be myself, that I’d be one of the guys if I did my work and proved reliable. He was dead on. I had been swearing to try to fit in with the other guys.
If colourful language was your only workplace concern, I don’t think most supervisors would have a problem with guys trying to fit in. But fitting-in attempts can cause a lot of damage. Workers Compensation has found that young, inexperienced workers are at greatest risk of being injured on the job – not just that they lack experience, but because they’re trying to prove themselves, trying to fit in. Newcomers take risks that others do not. Meanwhile, ridicule and abuse (often put up with by newcomers hoping to fit in) lead to turnover, worker discontent and all-round lower productivity.
1) Don’t assume employees know it all – because none of us do. Remember what it was like starting a new job – how many questions you had, but didn’t want to ask, for fear of looking stupid. Fitting in usually means keeping quiet and observing. Supervisors need to make it clear they and other workers expect and welcome questions from all newcomers.
2) Allow employees to pay their dues – but not sell their souls. New employees expect to pay their dues. Even those coming in at a senior level anticipate a need to learn the ropes. Harmless rituals that let someone know they have to earn their stripes are fine. However, if those rituals include harmful hazing or taking on dangerous tasks, these have to be stopped. Just because something harmful has been a “tradition,” doesn’t mean you should let it stand in the way of common sense. Good supervisors help workplaces change with the times.
3) Tell employees you want thinkers – not drones. Let all employees, especially new workers, know they were hired to contribute their thoughts and suggestions. That way, if they are assigned a dangerous or questionable task, they will feel comfortable speaking up, instead of dealing with sometimes deadly consequences. We’ve all heard of the psychology studies that prove people will put themselves in danger as a result of not wanting to go against the crowd. Don't worry that suddenly everything you say and do will be challenged and you'll lose authority. Good employees know the boss has the authority to make final decisions, and they’ll support you as long as the decisions add up to a physically and psychologically safe place to work.