When you think of hazing, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably teenagers in a frat house or in a locker room, being forced to do keg stands or having their clothes dumped in the toilet.
While hazing can and does occur in educational settings, the workplace isn’t exempt from these harmful, shaming rituals. New employees, in particular, are often subjected to cruel practices and injustices because current employees find it funny to torment the “new guy” or simply want to force someone else with less authority to take on tedious or demeaning tasks.
Human resources have a responsibility to keep people safe and to help create a supportive culture where people feel respected, not humiliated. If your office has been dealing with bullying and hazing lately, here’s what you need to know about what exactly hazing is, along with 6 ways you can step in and stop these harmful practices.
The Origins of Hazing
Hazing is defined as an activity or situation created specifically to shame, harass, ridicule, or cause embarrassment to specific members of a group. As you might expect, there’s a long history of hazing on college campuses throughout the United States. Fraternities and sororities, as well as sports teams, are notorious for hazing, but performing arts groups and even honour society members have had to endure these dangerous practices.
In addition to causing psychological and/or physical harm, hazing can even turn deadly. Since 1838, there have been over 200 hazing-related deaths, 40 of which have occurred in the last 10 years. While workplace hazing doesn’t usually end in death, it can end in a lawsuit. More importantly, hazing at work can have a major negative impact on team members and create a toxic work environment.
1. Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy for Bullying
We must actively enforce a zero-tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace. It’s essential, although regrettable, that we need to explicitly instruct against such behaviour.
Many HR departments overlook the necessity of anti-bullying regulations. Surprisingly, a survey revealed that 62% of employees reported a lack of specific anti-bullying policies at work.
Stand out from the norm. Establishing a clear rule against bullying is straightforward and crucial.
2. Integrate Non-Bullying Policies into Company Training
Employees might find anti-bullying and harassment training tedious, but it’s a vital measure to prevent workplace hazing. This training communicates a clear message: inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable and could have legal ramifications for the company.
3. Promote Reporting of Workplace Bullying
A zero-tolerance policy on bullying is only effective if incidents are reported. Create a safe space for employees to voice their experiences with bullying, enabling HR to address and stop harmful behaviours.
4. Make No Exceptions
The fear of disbelief or inaction, especially when the bully holds a senior position, often silences victims. Ensure all employees understand that the company will take action against bullying, regardless of the perpetrator’s status or performance.
5. Handle Hazing Incidents with Care
Avoid victim-blaming in hazing situations. Address such incidents with discretion and sensitivity towards the affected individuals. If public discussion is necessary, avoid labeling anyone and be mindful of how you present the situation.
6. Control the Narrative
Gossip can poison the workplace atmosphere. Take charge of the narrative and direct employees to HR for accurate information regarding any incidents of bullying or hazing.
Creating a Safe Workplace
Creating a safe workplace is an ongoing effort. More people—about 75%–have been affected by bullying in the workplace than you might think. Hazing can take place at any time, even in established teams.
While it’s not always possible to prevent every incident of bullying in the workplace, Human Resources can make a big difference in helping those who are targets to recover and feel safe. Everyone deserves to feel heard and respected in the office.
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Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He is currently writing a book about scaling up business and his experience implementing lean methodology.