American Offices Once Playgrounds for Bad Behavior

"The lead radiology tech (male) has been dating a female radiology tech, who is under his management. He also allows her to make numerous decisions, which no other tech is permitted to make. This situation seems to be OK with upper management."

Greg Ketchum, a psychologist who doles out advice on the site, responded, "I'm surprised to hear that the hospital administration is so asleep at the switch, so it sounds like it's up to you and your co-workers to flip that switch."

Ketchum, 57, runs his own executive coaching company, TalentPlanet in San Francisco, and has watched the work environment change over the decades.

"It mirrors changes in our culture, as a whole," said Ketchum. "You look back and people weren't so ready to sue each other over these issues. That goes hand-in-hand with heightened sensitivity about sexual and interpersonal issues at work."

All these attitudes evolved out of the civil rights, women's, and gay rights movements, according to Ketchum.

He is often hired by a corporation to work with an employee being groomed for success, to "shorten their learning curve," or to coach executives who are talented, but have "rough edges," like dressing people down in public and screaming at people.

"A male cannot assume, because he is standing around with three other guys at work, that he can make a locker room crack," said Ketchum. "That kind of humor gets tiresome."

But, Ketchum said he has noticed companies and their workers are going far beyond the laws regarding harassment. "A remark can be uncensored without being offensive," he said.

"Frankly, we are all too sensitive," he said. "Heightened training to cultural differences is a good thing, but it can be carried to the point where people are afraid to say anything. You can hear people self-monitoring."

Training a group of executives, Ketchum said a Hispanic man corrected himself to say "Latino."

"I think people aren't as comfortable with each other," he said. "There's an edge when you have to be careful with what you say."

Three decades ago, Ketchum's boss would walk through the office and shout out to the number two manager, "George, don't you think Greg's hair is too long?"

"Now, employees have a lot of independence, but no job security," Ketchum said.

Ketchum's 14-year-old son has grown up in a different age. "He gets all that political correctness at school," said Ketchum. "I was talking, and used the word Mexican, and my son said, 'Dad, you are so racist,' when all I did was identify someone."

Training Required

Debby, the lone female salesperson, has now adjusted to the new workplace. Both she and her "victim" were required to take an 8-hour sexual harassment class. She laughs about the incident now.

"For me, it was very comfortable back in the old days," said Debby. "I was raised with the slap on the back of the boys club. I fit right in, and was treated like one of the guys."

Today, Debby's 21-year-old daughter, who has just entered the work force, has a different view. She was offended recently when an older man flirted with her on her job at a golf course.

"Women are on a more even playing ground because of all the lawsuits, and they have a stronger voice in the business world," said Debby. "Back in those days, you got hit on, and you slept with the boss. And it wasn't to get farther up the ladder."

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