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. Enforce a Zero Tolerance Policy for Bullying
While it would be nice if people didn’t have to be told not to bully others at work, that’s unfortunately not the world we live in.
When it comes to workplace policies, many HR departments simply don’t acknowledge the need to create specific rules against bullying. In fact, 62% of workers in one survey indicated that their workplace did not have a specific anti-bullying policy.
Don’t follow the crowd on this one. It’s a very simple rule to set up and it’s important to make it official.
2. Include Non-Bullying Policies in Company Training
While employees may sigh through anti-bullying and harassment training, it’s a necessary step in preventing workplace hazing. Even if it’s common sense information, you’re signalling to employees that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated—and you’ll help protect the company against possible legal action.
3. Encourage Employees to Report Workplace Bullying
You can’t enforce your Zero Tolerance bullying policy if you don’t know when it’s happening. Employees need to feel safe about speaking up if they’re experiencing hazing or bullying so that HR can be notified when cruel or shaming practices are being perpetrated.
4. Don’t Make Exceptions
A major reason many people don’t feel comfortable speaking up about their experiences of bullying and hazing behaviour is that they might worry that they won’t be believed or that the person will get away with it because of their position in the company.
It’s important not to make exceptions when it comes to hazing. Employees need to know that even if they’re complaining about a more senior member of the team, a top performer, or someone who is well-liked, that action will be taken. Often, that means formal disciplinary action or even letting someone go—even if they are otherwise excellent contributors.
5. Be Careful How You Frame Hazing Events
There’s a lot of victim-blaming that can go on in hazing situations, and it’s important not to make someone feel worse after they’ve come forward. Try to handle hazing incidents privately, and be sensitive to the needs of the person who has been hazed. If you must address the issue in public, don’t call anyone a “victim” and be careful how you frame the incident.
6. Stay in Control of the Narrative
The rumour mill creates a toxic work environment. Stay in control of the narrative, and encourage employees to come to HR if they would like more information about hazing or bullying in the workplace.
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.
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.