In our many investigations into misconduct and harassment allegations, a regular issue is when a colleague makes comments about another colleague’s appearance.
Those remarks are often intended to be complimentary but can make the recipient of those remarks to feel ‘othered’.
This is a word that we are increasingly seeing in our interviews and it raises an interesting point.
Compliment or Criticism?
If a male manager comments regularly on how a female colleagues is dressed, their hair, or whether they have lost weight, that manager may well say that they intended it to be received as a positive thing.
However, if the manager doesn’t also comment on any male colleagues’ appearance then there is real risk that the female recipients of his comments could feel singled out, embarrassed or offended, particularly if the comments are made in front of a group of other people.
We recently did an investigation where something similar to the above happened. Whilst the comment in question was intended to be a compliment, in the mind of the recipient it merely served to highlight how something about her appearance was different to all of the other colleagues present.
What Are the Limitations of Behavioural Policies?
These examples show the limits of policies, as it is very difficult to draft a policy that covers every eventuality. Who would have thought for instance that you would need to specifically deal with looking at pornography whilst sat in the House of Commons?
If you do try to cover every possible eventuality in a policy then you will soon find that the policy will become very long and unwieldy and it will probably put a lot of employees off from reading it.
Experience also says that as soon as you finish a policy like that and press print or post it on your intranet, then you’ll want to add to it – it will never stop growing.
What’s a Better Approach?
In a word: training. You should train your staff on the approach you want them to take, giving them examples of the sort of conduct mentioned above. You should then ask them to reflect on how it would make them feel if a colleague commented just on their appearance on a regular basis.
We tend to find that taking that approach and getting the delegates to consider the impact of certain behaviours can result in longer lasting changes in behaviours. Those changes will be much more effective than simply handing them a lengthy policy and asking them to read and digest it.