Don’t be the jerk at work

Jason Cannon

November 5, 2013

A lot of life lessons can be learned from sports.

Discipline, teamwork, leadership and obeying the rules are are important takeaways from any organized team activity.

However, there are also lessons to be learned from failures in sports.

Many of you may be following the saga of Richie Incognito, the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman whose NFL career may be over for his alleged relentless harassment of a teammate.

“Guys will be guys.”

I understand that, and I’ve certainly dished out and taken my fair share of ribbing. However, it’s easy to cross an invisible line (unintentionally or otherwise) from harmless kidding to creating a harassing work environment.

Miami Dolphins management will soon come under fire for not recognizing how this behavior was unravelling, and rightfully so.

Are your workplace rules and regulations on harassment made clear and regularly enforced? Look out in your shop or across your staff. Most employees in this industry are men, and when you put a group of men together, a few bad decisions are soon to follow.

In most circles, ribbing a fellow employee is a logically flawed sign of respect. We kid because we care. Giving someone a hard time because their football team lost or over an ugly shirt is generally harmless. It’s not necessarily advised, but that generally won’t test the limits of decency.

If you continue to harp on it, or if this is a regular daily practice and there’s nothing the employee can do to avoid it, that person is being harassed. And your company is legally exposed.

There’s a big difference between, “Hey, John. That’s the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen” and “Holy cow, John. What an ugly tie. Are you poor? Can you not afford better? This is the 13th day in a row you’ve worn an ugly tie. If you were a better salesman, maybe you could afford nicer things.”

By now, you’re probably saying, “I know all this. This is basic business management stuff.”

You’re absolutely right, but if it snuck up on the Miami Dolphins – a “company” valued by Forbes at $1 billion with annual revenues in excess of $260 million – it can sneak up on you, too.

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