This is my workspace… That is your workspace…

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Just to clarify, the following experience happened early in my working career (and I started working at 14 years old!) many, many moons ago.

What would you do if …

…you were in work one day, busy as usual, then break comes and you decide to pop out to the shop. You walk out to the lift, step in and just before the doors close, your supervisor pops in. It’s just the two of you but at that moment you think nothing of it. The doors slide closed and before you could say ‘how’s it goin?’ – He moves right up against you, pushing you back against the back of the lift and tries to kiss you. It’s only a matter of seconds but it feels like forever as you raise your hands to his chest to push him off you, the lift doors ping, he smirks, moves away and is gone.

What would you do?

Let me clarify a couple of points… I was married, he was married, we were working in a small department of close knit people in a great company. There had been absolutely zero expression of interest in any way whatsoever on my part and if there was any on his, I never picked up on it. What did I do? Nothing. Except walk out of the lift, out of the building, around the corner and I retched over and over again. I was not very confident at that point in my life and I felt completely compromised. Because the team as a whole was so inter-reliant, I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone else about it so I stayed quiet. I spent a significant amount of energy ensuring that I avoided eye contact with him, where possible that I did not spend time in his company alone. However, he was my next in line Supervisor so he flexed that muscle and used that to manipulate time for a ‘meeting’. He sat beside me, so close his right thigh was up against my left thigh and his arm was constantly rubbing off mine. I just kept shifting my chair and he in turn did the same. He brought no paperwork to the meeting and when I asked the reason for the meeting, he just smiled and said that he wanted to catch up and have a chat. I gave him a run down on my work and where things stood in my brief but he just brushed it off and asked how I was and how were things at home. He asked was there anything he could help me with and he started rubbing my arm with his hand. I told him no, there was nothing he could help me with and I moved away again. He then started to talk about my attitude to my work and that my enthusiasm could do with improving. He said he wouldn’t like to see it affecting my Annual Review. I was speechless. He told me to think about it and he left the room.

And still I told no-one. I felt it would be considered my fault. I did not want to disrupt the status quo of the team. For some inexplicable reason, in hindsight, I didn’t know if I would be believed! I was intimidated by his qualifications, his manner, his personality and his veiled threats. In my position, my compromised anxiety filled terrified position, I could not see past his influence. That’s the thing with fear – it clouds your vision until you can’t make out the shadows from reality. I started to miss days in work more and I withdrew from my other work colleagues. Comments like ‘You were laughing too loud at lunchtime in the Canteen – keep it down’ and ‘Wear that top again tomorrow, when you lean forward I can see your breasts’ compounded my feelings of inadequacy. Then, out of the blue, he announced he was leaving. I didn’t actually believe it until the day he walked out the door. Needless to say, that’s one leaving drinks I did not attend.

So What would you do? Not what I did, I hope. Now my reactions would be completely different from the very first moment.

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But if, like me, you have the misfortune to cross paths with a person of this ilk and you’re not sure what to do – these are just a few pointers I wish I had realised/known back then:

  1. No-one in the World is better than YOU.
  2. Don’t think about everyone else and how they’ll react or be effected. Think about YOU and how you are reacting and how it is effecting YOU.
  3. Turn away…Walk away…Call for help…Walk straight to a Managers Office and tell them…Walk straight to HR and tell them. It’s easier to act immediately rather than later, when your unreasonable arguments seep in to your brain.
  4. Yes, unfortunately this can happen, even in 2016 and Yes – it could happen to you. Don’t doubt yourself. TALK to someone…anyone to start with. Then talk to someone in HR in confidence.
  5. Read the Dignity in the Workplace Policy issued through the HSE Dignity at Work Policy so that you are informed and aware of your rights.
  6. Every employer should have a policy & procedures to prevent and deal with harassment at work and it should clearly set out what is unacceptable behaviour at work. All employees must be made aware of the grievance or complaints procedure in place. The Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work gives practical guidance to employers and employees to put procedures in place to deal with sexual harassment and harassment at work.
  7. Remember – no matter what a persons job is; whether it’s CEO or Teacher or Director or Doctor – that is only a role they hold. First and foremost – they are just a person. Nothing more…Nothing less. Do not be intimidated by a person…remember No.1
  8. Someone else’s words only hold the power that we are willing to give them. Again…remember No.1

I hope this might help you out – we are all entitled to Dignity at Work and in life.

Chat soon… Helena x

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