Fifty Shades of HR

My friend Laurie Ruettimann wrote a funny post over at The Cynical Girl on the book Fifty Shades of Grey and how crappy she thinks it is (go check it out).

That post gave me inspiration to write this one, plus the fact that for Mother’s Day, I bought my wife the first two books of the series (which is before this SNL bit ran making fun of all the guys buying this on Amazon for their wives).

I’m not going to get into the content of the book – it’s lady porn – and this is a family site. OK, it’s not a family site, but I have standards, and although they are very low, I still have some!

Does Fifty Shades mask a double standard?

Here’s what I don’t get about Fifty Shades of Grey (I mean besides most of the terms): why is it OK for the ladies in the office to talk about sex, but when the guys do it, HR is called and we go through an entire round of discipline and sensitivity training?

Don’t tell me that the ladies aren’t talking about it – you’ve read the book – they are saying things that make the most hardened HR Prod blush! Yet, we chuckle and walk away – it’s just the girls; they don’t mean any harm…

I tend to think we allow this double standard for the simple fact that about 80 percent of HR Pros are female so other females either join in the conversation or turn the other cheek. This is reason #3247 why HR is hard – we send mixed messages to our employees constantly. “Don’t ever engage in sexual conversation in the workplace – there is no place for it – unless it’s a popular book that all the ladies are reading, then have at it, but only if you’re a female or gay male, otherwise it gets creepy!” (That’s actually wording from our official policy!)

There’s no place for this in HR

Fifty Shades of Grey, literally, has no place in HR, yet we deal with “gray” constantly in our profession and in the workplace.

Example: An individual contributor is creeping out the front desk person by hanging out around her work station too often, and we discipline the individual contributor. An executive is creeping out the front desk person by hanging out around her work station too often, and she gets fired. Your co-worker “borrows” a ream of paper to do some printing at home and he gets written up like he’s stealing company secrets. Another executive uses the company’s IT staff to help put together his kids’ science project and no one says a thing.

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It might just be the male in me, but the Fifty Shades conversations seem fairly black and white. Unfortunately, in real life, we can’t have our cake and eat it to. Leave the books and the stories and the workplace debriefs of chapters 4 and 5 at home where they belong.

We have enough creepy stuff in our workplaces; let’s not be a part of the problem!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


5 Comments on “Fifty Shades of HR

    1. I’m obviously not Tim, but I think what he’s getting at is that our workplace is already filled with enough “gray” (great office examples, by the way), so why would we include this kind of conversation that has no place in the office and workplace. The conversations related to the content of this book are black and white (inappropriate/appropriate), not the world the live and work in.

  1. Hi !! I am female and completely agree with you. I was having the same conversation with my daughter the other day about this and how there is a double standard in the personal world context. For example, if females are always advocating equal rights and demonizing anything that  demeans females, then why are females so into this book which idolizes the idea of women becoming subservient to a man?

  2. Workplaces are replete with double standards–I have not read the book–what I read about it creeps me out.  Tim is right–about the book, and the issue of sexual discussions in the workplace. 

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