The Coming Workplace Ice Age

The Coming Workplace Ice Age

  • Posted by Stephen White
  • On May 1, 2018
  • aftermath of #MeToo, changes arising from the #MeToo movement, changes from workplace sexual harassment, future workplace changes, the coming workplace ice age, workplace sexual harassment


For the past year newspaper articles and television reports have been filled with accounts of respected politicians, entertainers and public figures accused of workplace sexual harassment.  A lot of attention, and rightfully so, has been focused on the bravery of women who have come forward to share their personal experiences and challenges.  While there is general consensus that workplace behaviours need to change, there is less clarity around what that change will look like.


Five Personal Predictions

I read one account the other day in which I commentator said that some companies will eventually stop hiring and promoting women.  Frankly, I think that kind of unfounded speculation is absurd.  However, I do believe that we are on the verge of five major trends will have a huge impact upon shaping the corporate culture of business over the coming years.  I’ve labelled this “The Coming Workplace Ice Age”:

1) As the stigma against harassment victims diminishes more cases will come to light.  A whole new industry will be spawned for third party investigators who will be on retainer to companies exclusively to conduct in-depth harassment investigations.  Companies and organizations will adopt a “zero tolerance” approach towards anything dealing with workplace harassment.  As in the case of health and safety policies, anti-harassment policies will become an established norm in companies’ suite of Human Resources’ policies.

2) The workplace is about to become a lot more litigious.  Male employees who are accused of harassment will immediately “lawyer up”.  As the potential long-term ramifications and stigma associated with either being found complicit in or covering up sexual harassment becomes known employees will no longer attempt to defend themselves without legal representation.  Similarly, other workplace issues that previously were remedied through one-on-one discussions between employees and their supervisors will revert instead to immediate legal recourse.

3) More and more male employees are going to emotionally opt out of the workplace.  Fear of harassment accusations and investigations will probably put an end to many workplace romances, dating and social interactions between co-workers.  Frankly, any male employee who even considers dating a co-worker in today’s work environment is tempting fate and risking career suicide.

4) As with many social issues the pendulum will initially swing to an extreme and then to a more reasonable state.   Until then, in the zealousness to eliminate harassment workplaces will become increasingly sterile, antiseptic and lifeless. Many male employees will be isolated, and their impact upon and involvement in workplace culture will diminish significantly.

5) Finally, organizations will experience what I call “The Coming Workplace Ice Age”.  Employee engagement scores are going to plummet significantly because of the chill that will descend on organizations.  Companies will invest heavily in measures to increase workplace morale, but to no avail.  Workplace social events will still occur, but either attendance will diminish or employees’ enthusiasm will be lukewarm.  The annual Christmas Party will become a relic of a bygone era.  With the male portion of the workplace being increasingly marginalized and emotionally “checking out” a new class of excluded employees will emerge.  While some may view this as a positive I would submit that any workplace in which a significant portion of the organization doesn’t fully participate is both dysfunctional and unproductive.


Workplace changes and the Role of Men

Workplace changes will have a significant impact upon the role of men.

A Final Thought…

When I started my first full-time job my mother, a successful businesswoman in her own right, offered me a sage piece of advice:  “Never do anything at work that you would be embarrassed or ashamed to do in front of your mother”.    It would be nice if all workplace interactions could be imbued with simple respect for others and basic human decency instead of the supernumerary legalistic structures and codified guidelines that are rapidly emerging.  Regrettably, many companies and organizations will, I fear, be faced with an unprecedented challenge to motivate and engage an increasingly suspicious and disengaged workforce.



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