Hazing is No Way to Say Welcome!

Once a popular notion for newcomers, hazing is now considered bullying and harassment in any work environment.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary simply defines hazing as ‘an initiation process involving harassment.’

And as we are well aware of (or should be at least), any kind of bullying or harassment can’t be tolerated in a workplace.

Yet, still to this day, there are certain industries where a new employee, just starting out in a career that they have worked so hard to achieve, is subjected to an initiation practice. Hazing is not just restricted to college campuses or sports teams…

But just like these college or sports-related hazing, workplace hazing incidents can go unnoticed or ignored. Some employers assume that hazing is just a bonding experience, akin to team building—”It’s just some harmless fun!” they may say.

BC Laws on Hazing

Here in British Columbia, horseplay in the workplace is viewed very dimly from an occupational health and safety point of view.

Just so we’re clear, within BC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Section 4.25 prohibits “improper activity or behavior” in the workplace that may create an occupational health and safety hazard.

Here is the official language:

A person must not engage in any improper activity or behaviour at a workplace that might create or constitute a hazard to themselves or to any other person.

“Improper activity or behaviour” includes:

  • the attempted or actual exercise by a worker towards another worker of any physical force so as to cause injury, and includes any threatening statement or behaviourwhich gives the worker reasonable cause to believe he or she is at risk of injury, and

  • horseplay, practical jokes, unnecessary running or jumping or similar conduct.

You Can Still Say “Welcome Here” – Without the “Harm”

There is definitely some ‘welcome to the team’ events that don’t threaten physical harm of any kind. And when we’re talking about ‘harm’ these days, we must be cognizant of not just our physical safety but our psychological safety as well.

Here are some actions that constitute bullying and harassment within British Columbia’s legislation:

  • Verbal aggression or insults
  • Derogatory name-calling
  • Harmful hazing or initiation practices
  • Vandalizing a person’s belongings or work equipment
  • Spreading malicious rumors
  • Targeting a person for social isolation
  • Cyberbullying
  • Humiliation

Possible Wording for Proactive Policies

Proactive organizations, looking to ensure that their workplace cultures are inclusive, welcoming, and reflective of best-practices, often try to craft policies that detail what is and what is not acceptable with regards to welcoming new employees.

In this effort at bullying and harassment prevention, an organization might state in their policy:

We (the company) are committed to building a workplace community through positive, inclusive welcoming activities where any initiation, hazing, unauthorized or degrading activities are not permitted.

We (the company) are committed to supporting an environment conducive to personal growth where employees maintain the highest standards of respect for self and others. Sustaining an environment of mutual respect for the rights, responsibilities, dignity and well-being of others will ensure our students live up to the highest values of our community.

Our goals are to ensure that new employees feel safe, welcome, and respected in their new environment. The purpose of any orientation event/activity is to help build strong communities through positive and inclusive activities. Any initiation or hazing, inappropriate, unauthorized, or degrading activities are not permitted.

Define Welcome and Unwelcome Activity

And to ensure there is no misunderstanding, a definition of welcoming activities is:

  • Any endeavor in which an employee participates that is intended to enhance her/his sense of well-being and to promote or enhance physical, cognitive, and emotional health.

A definition of non-welcoming activities (hazing) is:

  • Any action is taken or situation that is created for the purpose of initiation or affiliation, with or without the consent of the individual, which jeopardizes the physical or mental well-being of the individual.

Personal Consequences of Bullying Including Hazing

As we know, bullying and harassment can have a plethora of effects on those involved and hazing is included in that. Some effects of the kind of activities that are considered non-welcoming are:

  • Mental or physical discomfort for a person or group.
  • Embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule of a person or group.
  • Putting an individual or group in danger of injury.
  • Creating an unwelcoming environment.

Welcome or Unwelcome?

You might be wondering to yourself, how do I know if the activity is welcoming or not welcoming?

Well, I can help with that.

Ask yourself the following questions regarding each activity to determine whether or not it is welcoming:

  1. Does this activity promote and conform to the values of your company?
  2. Will this activity increase feelings of friendship between new and current employees?
  3. Is this activity a positive onboarding experience with respect to the company?
  4. Does the activity risk emotional or physical abuse?
  5. Is there a risk of injury or a question of safety (physical and/or psychological)?
  6. Would you have a reservation in describing the activity to your parents?
  7. Would you object to the activity being photographed for the in-house newsletter or filmed by the local TV news crew?

I’m sure you get the idea.

How to Train Your Staff in Harmful Hazing Awareness

Employers looking to develop effective hazing policies must train their staff to recognize and confront hazing in the workplace.

Team building exercises allow staff to work together to solve problems, increase communication, and foster group reliance.

Consider the following preventative ideas to eliminate non-welcoming behaviors (hazing) in the workplace:

  • Create a respectful workplace policy that addresses hazing to ensure management and staff recognize incidents.
  • Reinforce your policy about hazing in the workplace with materials to show unsafe behaviors.
  • Build trust and help employees form bonds with team building exercises.

Just as with physical safety where employees are taught not to ignore unsafe acts they may encounter, they have a legal responsibility to report unwelcome acts as well.

The last thing any company wants is to end up on the news with a hazing activity turned dangerous…we see it all too often and it shouldn’t be welcomed in any organization.