Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A jacket you should be allowed to wear.

Maybe I'm just angry because of my sister's untimely death, or other things that are going on behind the scenes. Also, I concede that I've never done well in a business office, and posts like this pretty much guarantee that I'll never again have the chance, inasmuch as so many prospective employers like to investigate a job seeker's Facebook page or personal blog to get a better handle on whom they're considering hiring. Which, by the way, is not unrelated to the reason for today's ire: I'm spitting mad over this article about thesmokingjacket.com, which is Playboy's "G-rated" overture to young men who seek entertaining and relevant but nudity-free content during office hours.

To begin with, it irks me that Playboy even had to resort to this in order to evade office firewalls (and save its readers from the wrath of HR personnel). But the idea that an otherwise unobjectionable site could be verboten just because it's philosophically linked to Playboy, or because it depicts a woman in the very same attire (lingerie) that's on every other page of the women's magazines that female employees read openly at work, or because
oh my God!it has the "S" word right in its toolbar.... I'm (almost) at a loss for words.

The larger question is: Do we really think that pretending sex doesn't exist between 9 and 5 means it isn't (at least occasionally) on the mind of just about everyone in the office, including many of the women who supposedly would be oh-so-offended by all this, and are themselves wearing sexy lingerie under their business suits to enhance their sense of personal hotness, yes, at work?

It's none of your boss's effin business what you look at on a computer screen during your lunch hour or other workplace down-time. In theory, of course, you shouldn't be surfing the Web at all for personal reasons while on the job, but if you do have such an opportunity, it shouldn't matter whether your surfing takes you to thesmokingjacket.com or the real Playboy.com or an Al Qaida link spewing anti-American hatred or a militia site offering advice about the best weapon to use if your fantasies run not to Hef's famous smoking jacket and the Girls Next Door, but to smoking your boss and coworkers. (I'm being purposely provocative here, but I ask you: If antisocial thoughts were criminal in and of themselves, and all of us had to be evaluated based on each and every private notion, how many more Atticas would we need to build?)

Two thoughts of my own: One, Get out of people's sex lives. Two, Get out of people's heads. When somebody actually does something wrong, and that transgression is work-related, then haul the person off to human resources or, if need be, jail. Other than that, leave people alone, please.

27 comments:

Weston said...

"It's none of your boss's effin business what you look at on a computer screen during your lunch hour or other workplace down-time"

I disagree.

If I'm looking at a computer owned by my boss, using an internet connection paid for by my boss, in an office owned or rented by my boss...I think it is very much his "effin business"

Cosmic Connie said...

I've never done well in a business office either. I'm like you, Steve, in that it galls me no end that corporations are so invasive in the lives of their employees -- and increasingly so. They always have their rationales, of course. Monitoring employees' computer usage even when said employees are not 'on the clock' is often justified by security concerns. Refusing to hire employees who smoke -- even if they only smoke at home and not during work hours -- is justified by the need to cut down on insurance costs (not that most employer-provided insurance plans are worth much these days, even for young, healthy, nonsmoking employees).

And this is not even to mention the other type of intrusiveness often discussed here: that of employers who subject their hapless work force to a battery of psychological testing and/or SHAM-based seminars and retreats.

Corporations know they can get away with all of this crap because for them, it's still a buyers' market. They can be as intrusive as they want and employees have to just put up with it, knowing that they can and probably will be laid off, or their jobs outsourced, at any time. We've come a long way from the paternalistic Henry Ford, who also monitored his employees' personal lives but gave them job security in return.

I know there's another side -- that companies do lose money because of unproductive or thieving employees. And, more relevant to the topic of this post, real sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem that was overlooked for too many years and that, obviously, should be dealt with. But I think we've gone much too far in the other direction.

Steve Salerno said...

Weston, something happened to my previous response, in which I asked you a hypothetical question about an employee who brought his own laptop to work, but I realize now that that was ill-advised anyway, as I'm playing your game by answering in that fashion, and that misses the point.

I think you'll agree with me that very few employers would have a problem with a worker who used precious company resources (office space, computer, modems, etc.) to sit in his office during lunch with his door closed and soak up content from a web site called "How to Be the Best Employee You Can Possibly Be".com (or even, say, the History Channel). Why should it be any different when we're talking about Playboy?

I see no plausible answer that doesn't have to do with the "thought police" or (faux) puritanism.

RevRon's Rants said...

When I was IT manager for an investment advisory firm, I disabled visibility into employees' web history, as well as any outside access to their personal e-mail accounts (business communications had to be carried out via company accounts, and had to be preserved for legal reasons). My reasoning was that if management couldn't trust employees to behave appropriately, it was a failure of management to screen and supervise or dismiss employees whose behavior didn't warrant that trust.

It was a very workable system, and I think much more fair than the approach taken by so many companies today. Of course, ours was a small firm, and therefore easier to manage.

Did I mention that I was eventually laid off, and my functions outsourced? Seems the chairman's wife, who came aboard a couple of years after me, didn't like me or my style. Probably didn't do much to ensure my tenure when I used the phrase "***** whipped" to describe the chairman... in a discussion I was having with him. :-)

I still wouldn't have done anything differently.

Dimension Skipper said...

It's definitely a tricky question. I see your point, Steve, but I don't know that I can completely agree with it, especially for the scenario which Weston brings up. One's own personal laptop is a slightly different scenario, but it's probably still the company's wireless network being used, so I don't know if it's all that different. Simply using one's own laptop to view pre-existing material on one's own hard drive would bring the issue into focus one more step, but I'm still not sure there's a cut and dried answer.

Here's the thing for me... Let's say such things regularly occur and are KNOWN to be allowed despite some folks' misgivings. Then when something hurtful—potentially even criminal—happens which seems to be at least semi-linkable to those activities in some fairly intuitive predictive way (such as porn surfing --> sexual harrassment for one example) that's when the cries go up about how "Something should have been done", "All the signs were there!", and "This could have easily been avoided!"

I think it's good to be pro-active and try to take reasonable measures to prevent potentially serious troubles down the road. But it's all too easy to exaggerate those reasonable measures and twist them into something violating peoples' rights to otherwise harmless activities.

It's yet another example of the slippery slope argument leading to a digital solution to an analog issue, imo. If we allow A then that could lead to B which leads to C... to F... to Q... etc. So we'd better not allow A in the first place. We can't agree on a satisfactory place to draw a line in the sand so we'll just not allow anything... 0 or 1, on or off... that's it.

Personally, I've never been a slippery sloper. I'm OK with trying to draw lines when and where they seem to need to be drawn, though I also recognize the murkiness and sometimes unwieldiness of doing so, especially when it comes down to being simply a judgment call. I'd still usually rather try to deal with that than implement a super-restrictive all or nothing blanket solution.

In a completely unrelated and yet, I think, very analogous situation there's this New York Times article:

Prone to Error: Earliest Steps to Find Cancer
By Stephanie Saul (July 19, 2010)

It's great to try to detect breast cancer as early as possible, but when those efforts start turning up false positives and leading women to costly and life-/body-altering treatments, well, maybe we've hit that "too far" mark where the risks might begin to outweigh the benefits despite all good intentions. The article discusses some ways to try to resolve the problems now that they seem to be arising at this focal point to which the technology and medical training has developed. The article doesn't suggest Drs should stop trying to detect breast cancer early, just that it may be time to refine the process a little.

All of which doesn't really answer your questions, I know. Call me wishy-washy if you want, but by not being a slippery sloper all-or-nothing guy I can't help it if I appear that way. I just think that usually reasonable people can probably (eventually) come to agree on some sort of middle ground on which to draw the line between what's allowed and... uh, probably not your best judgment at work there, Joe...
_____

DISCLOSURE: I did not click on any of the links in this post, so I don't know if I'm missing any point which could potentially turn my ramblings here in one direction or another in the particuar instance under discussion.

Weston said...

Steve

Because an employee who spends his lunch hour sitting "in his office during lunch with his door closed and soak up content from a web site called "How to Be the Best Employee You Can Possibly Be".com " is using the employers resources on something that is reasonably related to his employment.

I think your original hypothetical regarding an employee who uses his own laptop is much more on point than the one you actually posted. If the employee is using his own laptop he is mitigating any number of possible serious issues for his employer including viruses, phishing schemes, hacking vulnerabilities, and employer liability for the employee's actions under a Respondeat Superior theory.

Steve Salerno said...

DS: That Times story is not as unrelated to things as you may think. More soon.

Steve Salerno said...

Weston: But is that why employers frown on porn or any "racy" content? Because they're worried about viruses, phishing, etc? No. They're worried about women taking offense, and potentially suing. Or, they just think it's "unethical."

Anonymous said...

And why shouldn't women take offense if the office jerk is leering at porn at the next desk?

Employers have a responsibilty to maintain a workspace that is free of that kind of offensive sexist material. Playmate of the month calendars don't get wallspace in most offices either.

Dimension Skipper said...

DS: That Times story is not as unrelated to things as you may think. More soon.
_____

I'll be curious to find out what you have in mind, Steve. My intent—which I hoped was clear—was only to draw the parallel between completely dissimilar specific situations whereby in an effort to foresee and head off major, but only "possible" future problems, there may be a side effect of causing actual problems (which could and should be avoided) right now for a certain smaller percentage of the target group involved. How many (if any) of those artificially created problem scenarios are acceptable in the cause of preventive measures for "possible" future scenarios for a wider overall group?

At least that's what I was trying to get at.

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon - I would assume that when you say "sexist material," you are also including the rash of "women's" magazines, right? You know... the ones that have a monthly article on better orgasms, a questionnaire to determine whether your man's a keeper, and - of course - the monthly miracle cure for a fat butt.

I don't find them offensive, but I'd imagine that someone like yourself, who is more sensitive to the problem of sexism than I, would be.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron/Anon 7:07, this little exchange here underscores my point: "Sexism," like racism before it, has become a one-way street (and a thoroughly eye-of-the-beholder offense). If the behavior offends a woman or could merely be construed as elevating/celebrating men and/or maleness, it's forbidden. If the behavior offends a man or clearly celebrates/elevates women, well, too bad. As a man, I may be deeply offended by women who spend their entire lunch hours talking in loud and animated fashion about how boorish, stupid and thoroughly worthless men are--which to my mind is a far more serious and meaningful offense than looking at some provocatively clad girl on a calendar--but in today's world, that's just "girl talk." I see.

Steve Salerno said...

And to be clear: No, I'm not saying that such lunchtime banter should be banned, either. This country was founded on the premise that other people are going to say things that offend us, sometimes grievously so. I'm just saying, let's be fair about it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Just had another thought... If a man is reading erotic literature on his computer at work and a female co-worker inadvertently sees it, does she have a right to complain? Absent immediately recognizable graphic content such as a photograph, wouldn't determining that the male was perusing "objectionable" content have required the female to invade the male's right to a degree of privacy?

Of course, a reversal of genders in this hypothetical situation is also possible, albeit unlikely.

Anonymous said...

You poor, down-trodden men, no longer able to exercise your right to view porn at every opportunity. I feel for you.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I feel for you."

That caring comes through loud & clear. :-)

Speaking of pornography, I could never justify the reasoning that deems it appropriate to broadcast words like "eviscerate" (or to actually broadcast a graphic portrayal) in prime time, yet deems it unconscionable to say the F-word (much less, broadcast a graphic portrayal) in the same time slot.

That being said, the "porn" opportunities far overshadow the appetite, at least in my own case.

RevRon's Rants said...

One point of interest (to me, at least) regarding my ill-fated venture as an IT manager: When the chairman's wife came to work at the firm, she insisted that the "pornographic" picture that adorned our hallway be taken down... It was a Boticelli depiction of cherubs, their grotesque little appendages a'dangle for all to see. How COULD we have missed such a disgusting example of depravity?

As it turns out, not knowing the degree of her sensitivity to such things, I had set up her computer with Boticelli's Venus as the wallpaper image. My bad... hehe

NormDPlume said...

I worked for a guy named Don, who was a partner in a huge firm. Don was not an attractive man: asymmetrical face; bad teeth; unruly hair. Don had no people skills: from bad breath to a booming voice he couldn't modulate - he made people feel awkward. Don spent a lot of time staring out the window, in a trance-like state as he would think up strategies for new products, services and markets. I worked with a handful of others who would try to execute his ideas, and our team made a lot of money for the firm.

Don got shipped off to a small office and our team broke up when secretaries accused him of "creating a hostile work environment" by "excessively staring at their breasts". He didn't touch anybody or say anything; he just had the goofy look on his face he was born with and the secretaries just knew he was a pervert. After the complaint was filed, the secretaries did no work - they could not be reprimanded for anything because they had achieved a permanent victim status.

In today's world, the rules are dumbed-down to the thinnest-skin, most easily offended person in the bunch - no matter how irrational that person is. The definition of "a hostile work environment" has gone from grabbing a secretary's ass to hanging up a Christmas card with a manger scene. And the employer is the one who pays. There is a whole industry thriving on fake rage and inventing reasons to be insulted/offended.

Now that I'm the boss, you can bet your last dollar that I'm going to restrict the use of my corporate property for the down-time activities of my employees. I don't even allow Redbook on the coffee tables, much less internet surfing. It's my effin business because I own the effin business!

ps Partner Don later went on disability when he was mugged in an incident at a gay bar. He just may have been fantasizing about ME and not the secretaries.

Steve Salerno said...

Some folks don't seem to understand that this isn't about being deprived of the joys of watching porn. This is about the banning of selective content that is presumed to be objectionable to one particular class of workers. I'd almost feel better if employers prohibited workers from any Net-surfing at all.

To switch the context here, suppose an employer made it a firable offense for workers to visit left-wing political sites--but visiting right-wing sites was perfectly fine. Does that trouble no one?

RevRon's Rants said...

"I'd almost feel better if employers prohibited workers from any Net-surfing at all."

No "almost" in my opinion. This is one instance when I think that the baby does need to follow the bathwater down the drain. On-the-clock (or on-the-jobsite) Internet access is a privilege, not a right. Refusing to grant that privilege is, IMO, more appropriate than granting it, but setting traps based upon *how* its use is perceived by others.

Same logic applies to the big immigration hubub in Arizona. Require *all* persons stopped by law enforcement, rather than those who "look" like they might be illegal, to provide proof of citizenship, and you eliminate the potential for inappropriate profiling (not to mention showboating lawsuits). But I digress. My bad...

Dimension Skipper said...

Same logic applies to the big immigration hubub in Arizona. Require *all* persons stopped by law enforcement, rather than those who "look" like they might be illegal, to provide proof of citizenship, and you eliminate the potential for inappropriate profiling (not to mention showboating lawsuits). But I digress. My bad...—RevRon

But does that really eliminate profiling? Or does it just eliminate any chance to prosecute it directly on the grounds of implicitly condoned procedural profiling?

And if you eliminate any chance to prosecute it (or make it a lot more difficult), does that somehow inadvertently allow more of it to occur—note that I come up short of saying "promote it"—which would obviously be a reverse effect from the intent?

Not saying you're right/wrong, nor that I agree/disagree... just thinking out loud. Sometimes the rush to baby, bathwater, & beyond solutions can have unintended consequences down the road.

Remember when the NBA decided to implement a cap on rookie salaries for three years (or something like that, I'm not sure... not a big NBA fan) in an effort to keep prospects in college for four years? The assumption was that they wouldn't jump to the NBA with the lure of that quick up-front payday eliminated. Now the league is stuck with their uneducated babies and at least three years of dirty bath water.

WV: ricin (?!?!)

Steve Salerno said...

Tangentially related, for a vivid and compelling analysis of the law of unintended consequences and its impact on modern society, read John Stossel's Give Me a Break. The book is generously seasoned with relevant anecdotes and case histories throughout.

A few years back when my book was published, Stossel and his ABC producer were not very nice to me; I dare say they screwed me. (I'll probably write something on this soon.) But one thing has nothing to do with the other, and I have to give credit where credit is due.

Dimension Skipper said...

Same logic applies to the big immigration hubub in Arizona. Require *all* persons stopped by law enforcement, rather than those who "look" like they might be illegal, to provide proof of citizenship, and you eliminate the potential for inappropriate profiling (not to mention showboating lawsuits). But I digress. My bad...—RevRon

Just to clarify... I actually think I agree with you that the law should probably be written that way, but I guess my quibble is when you say "you eliminate the potential for inappropriate profiling". I don't know that that necessarily eliminates the profiling itself. The cops on the street could still do what they want because, after all, they're the cops!

(And they're also the ones on the spot dealing with God-knows-what in an instant—I get that it's a potentially risky job with all sorts of perils, some deadly. I like to think that most cops are reasonable and fair, but well, there have been documented occasions here and there...)

Oh and btw, just what exactly would be "appropriate profiling?" I think many will make the claim that targeting those who look like they might be immigrants (and therefore potentially of the illegal variety) IS appropriate profiling, you know, for the express purpose of uncovering illegal immigrants who by very definition are here illegally.

(Again... not saying I agree/disagree, just thinkin' out loud...)

RevRon's Rants said...

DS - As you know, it's impossible to completely eliminate abuse from any system. Those who wish to abuse will find a way. However, by broadening the scope of the requirement for documenting legal residency status, we would be removing the systemically-ingrained abuse, and leaving corruption of the system to the corrupt individuals.

And yes, such legislation would serve to reduce exposure to litigation for municipality, state, and federal governments, but the individual entities within those systems could certainly eliminate that insulation with inappropriate behavior. The end result might be smaller payoffs for plaintiffs.

Same principle is what drives HR departments to adopt policies intended to eliminate "hostile work environments." The environment might still be hostile, but the company could prove a good-faith effort to prevent it (unless offenders' actions failed to elicit reactions commensurate with those policies).

Elizabeth said...

(women) are themselves wearing sexy lingerie under their business suits to enhance their sense of personal hotness, yes, at work

Shocking, utterly shocking!

(wiping the tea spilled all over keyboard after LMAO)

Elizabeth said...

(women) are themselves wearing sexy lingerie under their business suits to enhance their sense of personal hotness, yes, at work

Note to self: next time I get ready for work, I must remember to put on grandma's bloomers and a sports bra under my mannish suit.

Must skip make-up as well. Just in case. ;)

Wayne S. said...

I have to agree with RevRon in that when you bring your internet use into the work place a whole new set of rules should apply. No, the company should not select out which websites an employee might surf, which in my opinion is not only offensive but just plain impossible to control. New sites are added daily. It would necessitate a an entire dept. of web surfers to keep on top of it.

In the case of someone innocently perusing an underwear site (male or female), if the site happens to be a G rated portal to a kiddie porn site it can be traced back to the URL of the company. If an agency decides to act on this information it can cost lots of time and money to untagle the company from it. Don't laugh, I have actually been on site when treasury agents raided a company I was working for over just such an indiscretion.

In the case of a person using the company resource for education that might relate to his work it depends whether or not he is salaried or hourly in his employment. If he is under salary he is in a pay status while at work and it becomes a matter to decide for the company if he is using resource according to policy or not. If he is hourly and doing a work related (even loosely related) activity. It can be construed that he should be paid for this work; especially if keeps records of his hours at this activity.

I believe that all employees should keep their outside activities completely separate from work and vice-versa. The scenarios I've painted may seem a little extreme but I've worked in an adversarial management/labor environment for 25 years and I've seen everything I mentioned happen more than once.