Hazards of working with women

I alluded to the following story in a previous post. It is an example on how, as a supervisor, becoming too friendly with the people you work with can bite you in the ass. It is the story of a slow loss in professionalism. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In a previous position, I started with a company from the bottom, as a help desk technician on the phone. I worked with a great bunch of people, and it was like a family environment. We all got along pretty good, joked with each other, etc. We liked to keep things light. At some point, I became a team leader. Not really a supervisory position, but one with a little more responsibility. No one reported to me directly, but I was the go between for the team and the supervisor. In this capacity, I worked with several women on another team. There was a bit of the sexual innuendo going on, nothing serious, mostly just trying to shock each other. One in particular I used to joke with didn't seem to get my dry sense of humor. I would sometimes mention using "motiviational tools", implying something like a bat to keep employees in line. Mind you, I don't really subscribe to the theory, and anyone that's worked for me knows I'm a fair boss to work for.

Anyway, I was eventually promoted to a supervisor. Through this process, I still considered my co-workers as friends and peers, simply that I was charged with running the operation. We all seemed to respect each other and they knew where I was coming from. No real issues, and since we had a stressful job, I tried to keep the atmosphere light. Same kind of joking, idle threats on occasion meant to poke fun instead of being serious.

At one point, we expanded my team and I hired a bunch of new personnel. The woman mentioned above that I joked around with and didn't get me was transferred to my team. I carried on with the new personnel as I did with my current team. Stupid teasing stuff, never serious. Apparently, this woman didn't realize (after almost a year of interacting with me) that I was only kidding. Then came the clincher. One of my new team members was a female former Marine. She mentioned she had a tatoo and I asked to look at it, as it was on her back near the belt line. She let me see it and I mentioned that women with tatoos were cool and something to the effect of ah if I was only 1o years younger. Mind you, I had no interest in this woman. We had a shared military experience, me being ex-Navy.

Well, woman that didn't get me went to my supervisor and accused me of sexual harrassment. When he told me about it, I was stunned. I beleive on treating everyone fairly and reviewing their performance objectively, based on what they do. Gender, race, I couldn't care less. My criterion has always been can you do the job and do you fit with the team.

The outcome of the mess was that I had to go through an investigation with HR which determined I merely showed poor judgement, not actual sexual harrassment. However, I did realize that I had forgotten the first rule of being a supervisor. The people that work for you are not your friends. You can be friendly, get along great, even socialize with them. However, all socialization should be in some sort of company related event, like a team lunch, company sponsored events, etc. I let my team get too close to me and acted more like a member of the team instead of the supervisor. A hard learned lesson, but one not ever forgotten. In my role as a supervisor at my new company, I make it a point to always maintain the proper level of professionalism.

As a side note, the woman that accused me of harrassment was transferred off of my team, at my supervisor's request. He recognized it would be awkward for her to continue to work for me given her feelings about me. I did not disagree. However, for my part, I was disappointed she did not come to me first. I know some people are uncomfortable about things like that, but I would have listened to her without judgement. We didn't speak to each other after that, but I never tried to retaliate in any way, not because I feared for my job, but because she was not worth the effort. She eventually left the company. I was going to make an effort on her last day to at least say goodbye and wish her luck in her new job, but she never came in on her last day.


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