"I'm not going to let a woman talk to me like this."
Don Draper

For many, one of the most shocking things about the series Mad Men - which ended its run on AMC in 2014 - was the depiction of office behavior.  In the early 1960's, when the show was set, it was commonplace for men to curse, drink and make offensive comments to women - oftentimes to their face - while at work.  To them, it was just another day at the office. Well, those days are long behind us, right?

Apparently not.

According to a poll of more than 1,100 American adults conducted in late January and released last month from National Public Radio (NPR) and the market research company Ipsos, some of the most inappropriate office behaviors witnessed in Mad Men are still commonplace - and no it's not 1960. Oh, and it's not the older men who are the most common culprits.  It's younger guys.

Want a great example? When was the last time you called a female coworker a "girl," "babe" or "sweetie?" Hopefully never. You probably think that's inappropriate - and you're not alone - 80 percent of those responding in the survey agreed. However, 60 percent of them have actually seen it happening at work!  Telling sexual jokes and stories while in the office is a bad idea, regardless of who's present. 90 percent of people think so. However, more than half have also seen it happen.

To me, the worst is touching. Sure, there's shaking hands or a (very) quick pat on the shoulder - but even though deliberate "touching, leaning or cornering" was found to be inappropriate by 93 percent of respondents more than a third (35 percent) see it happening at the office.

Surprisingly, it's the younger worker who seems to have difficulty with this concept. Only half of the men aged 18-34 considered it "always inappropriate," for example, to discuss someone else's sex life or preferences at work whereas 72 to 88 percent of older men did. Younger men were less concerned about the improper use of the terms "girl, babe, sweetie or honey" and were more lenient on supervisors who flirted with subordinates or others telling sexual stories at work than their older counterparts.

There are some admitted weaknesses in the NPR/Ipsos survey. It was taken online. People may not have been completely straightforward. The #MeToo movement may have affected responses. It's very subjective. For example, is it inappropriate to say comments like "Hey, cool dress," as opposed to "That dress looks great on you."

So what's the takeaway?

First and foremost and regardless of age, men understand the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, some choose to behave poorly.  It's not difficult to know how to conduct oneself in an office environment.  If a CEO promised a $10,000 bonus to the 25-year-old former fraternity brother and member of the varsity football team if he would behave appropriately in the office for one month I guarantee you he would. Some men, particularly those under the age of 35, choose to still act out their high school and college selves and haven't yet realized that those days are gone. The data shows that at some point they grow up. So does that mean we give men a pass until the age of 35?  Of course not.

As a manager or owner you've got to be the one to set the tone. Your behavior is watched by everyone. Larger companies send their employees to training on these topics and that may be one of your considerations. But if your company is small enough, formal training may not even be necessary.  You're the one walking around.  You know your staff. You're not blind. You've seen plenty of stereotypical alpha-males in your life - either in person or on Mad Men. Once identified, you've got to be watching them closely and keeping alert for any signs of inappropriate behavior...and be careful that you're also not the one behaving that way.

If you're a female worker you've got a responsibility too: say something. You don't deserve this. There are too many ways to file claims with the EEOC and your state or federal Department of Labor. There are too many attorneys happy to take on a lawsuit. You've got options and you've got rights. Your boss isn't Don Draper and your co-worker isn't Pete Campbell. It's just some idiotic guy who needs to learn to shut his mouth. Don't do this just for yourself. Do it for the next generation of female professionals who deserve better.

Offices in 2018 shouldn't be like those 1960 - unfortunately there are still too many similarities.

Published on: Mar 13, 2018