Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Chocolate Heist OR Hostile work environment

I started a new job a few weeks ago and to start they put me through eight weeks of training. The crowning event of training is a little class called, “Respect In the Workplace.”

“Respect In the Workplace” can be roughly translated to “Sexual Harassment for Dummies.” To start out, our trainers told us tons of horror stories about people whose lives and careers were destroyed by sexual harassment.

“You can’t be too careful,” they said. “Don’t say anything that can be misconstrued. Basically don’t look at anyone or talk to anyone and you’ll be fine.”

So we were all paranoid and fearful for our jobs. The trainers divided us into groups and gave each group a stack of index cards that had “scenarios” on them. We had to decide whether a given scenario fell into the “appropriate” or “inappropriate” category.


Some were pretty obvious, like, “A supervisor says an employee can’t get a promotion unless she agrees to go out on a date with him.”

“Inappropriate.” Not hard. Are there people that really don’t get this? I guess there must be since we devoted a whole day to talking about it.

Some scenarios were more ambiguous, and don’t forget we were paranoid. A scenario came up that said, “Co-workers talk about their vacation plans.”

I said it was appropriate, but some of my classmates thought it was inappropriate.

“What if it’s a sexual vacation?” they said. “You can’t talk about that!”

“A ‘sexual’ vacation? What are you talking about?” I said.

“Well,” they started to explain. “You could…”

“Nevermind, nevermind! You’re right,” I conceded hastily.

Next was a card that said only “Chocolate emergency!” Huh? I was still all paranoid so I voted “inappropriate.” When my classmates asked why I said, “What if it’s, like, aphrodisiac chocolate or something? Or maybe they’re stealing chocolate! Are they planning some kind of chocolate heist?”

As silly as this training was, I’ve had sillier. I was a server for about two days last summer and when I got hired they sat me down and made me watch a video about being sensitive to culture in the workplace. In this video a stereotypically ignorant white cowboy looking dude from Texas (he kept saying he was from Texas, and I think his name was “Tex”) walked all over his conveniently diverse restaurant and innocently insulted everyone by saying unwittingly racist things to them.

In one scene Tex asked a guy who looked like he might be from the Middle East to hurry up with something and the guy got angry. “Settle down there, Habib,” Tex said soothingly, with genuine “aw, shucks” Texan affability. “Don’t get all upset and go blowing up something, you crazy terrorist you, heh heh.”

At this point the scene froze and the narrator said, “What Tex did here was inappropriate.”

Really?! Good thing I saw this video or I might have made the same mistake. What a close call!

Fortunately, the video had an “alternate universe” part and in this universe Tex wasn’t racist anymore (or maybe he had since watched a “Cultural Sensitivity In the Workplace” video) and he went around saying nothing but culturally sensitive things. It was a happy ending. I cried a little.

I just think it’s a sad day when employers have to teach oversimplified presentations on how to not be racist or sexist to their employees. It seems like people should already know this stuff.

Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’m having a chocolate emergency.