Yesterday, my colleague sniffed me in the elevator again. Over the past 15 years of teaching at LMU, he has probably sniffed me in the elevator dozens of times. Here’s how it works- He leans way into my personal space but does not ever actually touch me although hovers around neck/chest level and takes a deep yoga like inhale. Then he leans back and pronounces what I smell like. I guess I should be grateful that it is always something positive like “vanilla with a hint of rose and caramel.” Or maybe he even names a particular perfume like “J’adore.” And in the interest of full disclosure he is an elderly heavy smoker so cannot possibly smell too well and I rarely wear a drop of perfume as it sends my highly allergic honey running for his tissue box. Depending on my frame of mind my reaction ranges from horror to benign amazement that this actually happens. Whenever it happens, I am always super annoyed. Yesterday was like a hidden camera moment because this time Professor Sniffer had a witness!
Here is the story. I was leaving my class and had just reminded my students to be sure to review their chapter for Tuesday as we were going to be focusing on sexual harassment in our Managing People and Organizations course (a combination of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior). I hustled to catch the elevator and saw my friend and colleague, Henry inside. He said in a joking way, ‘Don’t worry you can ride the elevator with me- I promise not to bother you.” I smiled and said “Phew, at least I don’t have to worry about you leaning over and sniffing me.” Just then, the elevator stopped and in walked Professor Sniffer! He then proceeded give me a sniff and share his perceptions of my personal scent (although in all fairness Henry’s presence did act as a buffer as my personal space was invaded less than usual). It was all Henry and I could do to hold it together – we had a good laugh as we exited the elevator and I thought –wow what a great example of organizational behavior for human resource management professionals and students to learn from!
There are two forms of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo, and Hostile Environment. Quid pro quo is a “form of harassment that makes continued employment and advancement contingent upon sexual favors.” (Stewart & Brown, 2011). This type of harassment is pretty overt and due to the spate of sexual harassment training, expensive lawsuits, and general increased level of awareness, my bet is most people in organizations probably know that they are not supposed to do this. However, hostile environment is far more subtle. It is defined by Human Resource Management textbook authors, Stewart & Brown, 2011 as “a form of harassment that occurs when employees create an offensive environment in the workplace that interferes with an individual’s ability to perform work duties.” Hostile environment is sort of the “death by a thousand cuts” type of situation. So, one inappropriate comment, stare, gesture or even a sniff does probably not a hostile environment make, however when there is a pattern of these types of occurrences, then the environment may become hostile. As for me my work environment is generally a good one but I also have to say over the years there have been these incidents and they just make you feel tired and annoyed and angry. I think everyone could develop a little more awareness of what might make others uncomfortable or annoyed so as to avoid a hostile environment. After all there is a very short list of people that I want sniffing me and my work colleagues are definitely not on that list!
So my HR tip of the day? Please practice positive organizational behavior, and don’t sniff your colleagues! What about you? Have you had any experiences like this and how did you react?