Even with a new year, a new administration in the nation’s capital and other changes, I’m surprised to hear that some business owners and managers are thinking they can slide on issues like workplace policies and enforcement.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reducing government regulation. I won’t say who I voted for in November or bore you with other personal opinions, but I have seen firsthand just how tough it is for business owners and managers to keep up with the tsunami of regulations and associated paperwork. This is especially tough for those who are trying to start a business or run a small company. Although no organization likes fines or lawsuits, I’ve always recognized that the burden of regulation can be especially difficult for small companies. These operations can be crippled by a fine or court judgment, even forced into bankruptcy. Small businesses also have the biggest challenge dealing with these things. I get that.

But some things are not going to change, or change that much, and business owners and managers need to remember that. For example, we do have a new administration in the White House that is likely to bring a different attitude about governmental regulation. But it would probably be a mistake to expect some fundamentals to change. I’d like to hope that some badly worded or overly enforced regulations will be change or even disappear, but certain concepts probably won’t.

In areas of employee issues, I don’t except to see a 180-degree change in areas that involve workplaces safety. And keeping a safe workplace includes not allowing a hostile environment with things like bullying or harassment. If a plaintiff—one of your employees—can get a judge or jury to agree that you allowed such a negative environment, you are still likely to face serious legal and financial problems.

I think of this when I hear a client talk about how a new day is dawning in terms of regulation enforcement. Certainly, there are areas likely to change, some dramatically. But I don’t expect the regulatory lines to shift much. I’d expect the courts to change even less.

My reasons for this are simple: too many decisions relating to fairness, responsibility and the law have been decided to suddenly be “undecided.” The precedents have been set, in both our culture and in our law. It’s not suddenly going to be okay for one of your employees to start making vulgar jokes in front of others, or use the “N” word in the break room, or begin picking on a fellow worker because they don’t like something about him or her.

Certainly, some people will feel that the “PC Police” have been reigned in and now is their chance to “be themselves.” Frankly, I don’t think most people have needed to walk on eggshells, although I know there are always times in a workplace when issues of personal style or beliefs can make things challenging. But for those who are concerned one way or the other, as owners, managers or employees, here’s something to remember: when you’re at work, just be professional. Be businesslike. That will solve most of the problems.

I know this sounds simplistic, but if professionalism is practiced, most problems will be minimized or removed. Clearly, when you and others are at work you are working, you’re conducting business. Even in the most relaxed atmosphere, you’re still at work. It’s not home, it’s not a date, it’s not a bar or another social setting. It’s your workplace, and if you conduct yourself professionally, and make it clear that you expect employees to act professionally, a lot of problems will be avoided.

I won’t go into details, although I understand this can raise a lot of questions. But as the owner or manager, if you conduct yourself professionally, it’s easier to expect your staff to do so, too. It will make it easier for you to ask the office jokester to “cease and desist” from his so-called humor, which can get off color. A professional atmosphere will also make it easier to tone down the office Romeo whose attentions are not really welcome by some members of the staff. Being professional says, “We’re here to do a job. We can relax and be friendly, but the priority is the job. Focusing on that job is what we’re here to do.”

That word “focus” is a key. If you and the staff are focused on your work, and trying to do it as well as you can, there will be less time for other issues to become major problems. You’ll still see them, but they are less likely to land you in court or facing fines.

About the Author

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

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