Saturday, 29 May 2010
It's so hard to be a young adult in the workplace especially when you're working amongst your peers. Working with people your own age might make you feel more comfortable to make inappropriate jokes and talk about everything you shouldn't like sex, politics, and religion. Sure, we all got a sexual harassment training workshop at orientation but who really listens to that stuff when you're coworker is talking about her live-in boyfriend?
In casual work environments, it's harder to distinguish what topics are okay to touch upon and which aren't. If you're coworkers are talking about their sex lives, politics, and religious views, it's hard not to join in the conversation. In fact, if you don't join in the conversation, you begin to feel ostracized and or aloof. How do you manage to be politically correct amongst your peers in the workplace? How do you respond to peer pressure and not fall into that "everybody's doing it" mentality?
The hard and fast rule about the workplace is to never discuss sex, politics, or religion. The reality of every hard and fast rule though is that it's broken every day. Some people might take for granted that they simply don't touch upon the unholy trinity of off-limit conversation in the workplace. Other people, like myself, had to learn the hard way that you shouldn't discuss these things under any circumstances.
In my previous work environments, I worked with people who were in my age range--mid to late twenties or earlier thirties. Sometimes, I would grab drinks after work with my coworkers. We would discuss things happening in our personal lives candidly. I thought that these people were my friends.
Rule number one of the workplace: No one is your friend.
Every work environment has cliques and gossip chains. These social monstrosities don't end with high school. They only get worse. It may be tempting to join in with the office gossip, friendly banter, and co-curricular camaraderie; but you should avoid it like a plague. At the end of the day, it's every man for himself. The person that you were confiding in and downing happy hour specials with last week could very well be the first one to file a report against you at HR. Trust me...It happened to me. I learned that the devil comes dressed in sheep's clothing.
In other workplaces, everyone talked about who they were seeing, sleeping with, considering dating, and all other inappropriate details of their intimate lives. I had an old boss tell me that she was bisexual. She revealed her 10 year relationship history with a married man and would frequently tell me "Me encanta". She and her other cronies would openly discuss their personal lives in front of me. They made it appear as if it was okay for me to join in their conversations.
Rule number two: It's never okay to join in inappropriate conversations at work...even if you're boss is involved.
People get caught up with their peers because they get the coworker/peer relationship confused. If we knew these people outside of work, it would be 100% okay to discuss our personal views, opinions, and ideas with them. Since our boss signs our time sheet, we can't afford to have these conversation. If you're views are out of sync with theirs or you disagree with him or her too often, it will play against you. Your boss may penalize you in other ways to "show you who's boss". Again, take my word for it...It happened to me. You can and will lose your job before you're higher-ups do even if they perpetuated the inappropriate behavior and conversation. In the interest of your well being, hold you tongue at work.
Rule number three: Everybody, except for you, is doing it...
It's never cool to be a "cool kid". Some of the "coolest kids" in high school end up being the biggest losers in life. The same thing goes for the work environment. It's better not to participate in office gossip or banter even it means you sit alone at lunch and don't go to happy hour with the "gang". It's better to be an outsider than to fall in too deep. Office relationships are just as complicated as familial and friendly relationships. They're more difficult to navigate because you can't flip out on your boss or coworker. Passive-aggression makes work environments very toxic because we're so restricted in what we can say and do. Don't try to be part of the "in crowd" at work. You're not there to make friends. If you try too hard to crack in to the boss' circle, you could more easily make an enemy. You don't go to work to win a popularity contest and seek validation from social interaction. You're there to get a paycheck, pay taxes to Uncle Sam, and go on your merry way.
When I reflect back on mistakes that I made at work, I often sigh and think: "If I only knew then what I know now..." Sometimes learning the hard way is the only way to learn. Everyone who I used to work with went through a sexual harassment training, but they engaged in conversations that were inappropriate to say the very least. Clearly, the sexual harassment training didn't teach them anything. You walk a thin line at work when you're working with young adults and people who are fresh out of college. In your mind, you can envision these boys and girls being your old suite mates, drinking buddies, sorority sisters or frat brothers. There's a jarring shift that happens when we transition from college to the work place. Everyone still has that "dorm life" mentality. Keep college at college and preserve your job security.
Have you been lured into inappropriate conversation at work? Is everyone else disclosing their intimate life details and setting a tone that doing so is okay? Do you find it hard to distinguish between your peer and your coworker sometimes? What's the line between biting your tongue and being salt of the earth?