I once worked with a small, growing business that had a couple of magnetic poetry kits on the refrigerator. Employees would make funny sentences on the refrigerator for all to enjoy. All was well and good until the company grew to a point that it needed a human resources manager.
Within a week of the new h.r. manager arriving, one word disappeared from the poetry set. It was the S-E-X word. This word never caused a problem with any of the employees. This particular group of employees was not known to be crude and I don’t believe that word was ever even used in a sentence. Apparently, the new human resources manager was afraid that it might cause a problem or tension and thought it best to just discreetly toss the word.
I’m a little more laid back in my h.r. approach. I think there are very definitely business cultures where this particular word shouldn’t be displayed in the break room, but there are instances where a it’s not a big deal. The thing is, you have to know what your business culture is and what is or is not appropriate. This business was young, fun, and funky. It was a hip environment where even if the word was used it would have been funny, not insulting. Let’s face it, it can be a pretty funny word.
The beauty of small business is you don’t need to have office bureaucracy. Yes, you need to follow the law and certainly sexual harassment cannot be tolerated, but is the word “sex” by itself harassment? I think not (feel free to disagree). Here’s how I would handle the situation… If it’s in keeping with the culture and I didn’t think it would offend anyone, I would keep the word on the fridge. Of course, if someone complained, I would immediately remove the word. If someone dared to make an inappropriate statement with that, or any other word, then I would deal with it.
How would I deal with it? Straight up and matter of fact. It’s just like parenting kids… here’s what happened, it was wrong, here’s why it’s wrong. Now I have to remove this word (or maybe put the whole poetry set on time out :)). I hope we’ve learned our lesson here. You can’t avoid every potential problem, so why not have some fun and embrace the opportunity to teach lessons when things go wrong?