In the wake of #MeToo, Netflix has released a new set of rules governing how its workers interact during filming. For the most part, they seem fairly obvious to anyone who isn’t a creep. The problem is that if you are a creep, you probably won’t even realise they are aimed at you.
They include rules banning flirting, staring at people, continuing to ask people out even though they’ve said no, asking for a colleague’s phone number and, my favourite, instructing staff to shout ‘stop, don’t do that again’ if someone does something inappropriate. I haven’t checked if this includes stealing your lunch from the office fridge, or making tea without asking if everyone wants some, but it should.
Some seem a bit more straightforward than others.
‘Don’t look at anyone for more than five seconds’ seems fairly clear to me, in most contexts. Of course, if you’re the type of person these rules are aimed at, you’ve never looked at anyone in your workplace for less than five seconds. It has never occurred to you that your open-mouthed gaze down the cleavage of Sandra from accounts, Sinead from sales and Siobhan from procurement is noted, even by other men, and that your pervy ways are the first topic of conversation at every staff night out. All those women smiling at you at the Christmas party? They’re laughing. At you, and your Rudolph jumper.
Giving ‘lingering hugs’ is also off the menu during working hours. Again, this should be a given. Unless the recipient of your hug is a close family member or intimate partner, or they’ve just been through some kind of trauma, aren’t lingering hugs kind of weird? We’ve all got a hug from a colleague and realised, right about the time we tried to extricate ourselves, that the heavy breathing indicates they are getting way too much out of this.
This rule also covers ‘touching anyone for an extended length of time’.
Unfortunately, the worst people for invading your space are not remotely sexual about it. They stand so close you know what they had not just for breakfast but also for dinner the night before, you can see whether they’ve had their tonsils removed, and all the while they are busy regaling you with boring stories about their pension or how they’ve managed to game the company’s sick leave policy. Where is the rule to tackle colleagues who seem to exist in order to bore you into taking the redundancy package?
From there on, though, we get into some grey areas. Flirting, for example. I mean, where do you even start? How do you define flirting? Who decides what is flirting? And where do people whose every action is just instinctively flirtatious fit in, in a world where the most natural way of charming other people is banned?
There’s an enormous gulf between sleeping your way to the top and having the kind of easy charm that gets you ahead. Somewhere in there, flirting happens. Some people are such natural flirts that it’s just a part of their personality, and they do it with everyone equally.
This one may not be a problem in, for example, accounting or software development, but in jobs where charisma is important (media, politics, sales), flirting is a key skill.
Apart from that, though, what about the genuine flirtations? The ones that might develop into a relationship, that are fun and mutual and give you a reason to show up once again and put on the horrible branded t-shirt to sell fridges to the masses?
Much like secondary school, lots of jobs are so awful that only the opportunity for a daily bit of craic with the object of your affections will keep you motivated. In many respects, employers should be thankful for workplace shenanigans, because the retention rate would be so poor if there wasn’t the prospect of a bit of excitement.
If you’re not a creep, you’ll be smart enough to spot reciprocation and a bit of welcome sexual tension between two adults. It is, after all, what makes the world go around. And it’d be pretty boring without it.
The majority of people spend most of our waking hours at work. We spend more time with colleagues than with friends or family, and sometimes, they even become friends or family. That’s a perfectly natural course of events. Relationships form, endure and are broken in and around workplaces. I mean, what would the rest of us talk about if they didn’t, apart from pervy Stephen in marketing, who still hasn’t realised these rules exist because of him?