If you thought that proactively offering help to your co-workers was a good thing, think again. New workplace research from Michigan State University found that when it comes to offering your expertise, it’s better to keep to yourself or wait until you’re asked.
Building upon previous findings that showed how helping colleagues slows one’s success, management professor Russell Johnson looked more closely at the different kinds of help in which people engage at work – and how that help was received. The research findings, published in Journal of Applied Psychology, quantified the term, “it’s best to stay in your own swim lane.”
“Right now, there’s a lot of stress on productivity in the workplace, and to be a real go-getter and help everyone around you,” Johnson said. “But, it’s not necessarily the best thing when you go out looking for problems and spending time trying to fix them.”
In looking at the ways people help one another in the workplace, Johnson explained that there are two basic kinds of help one can offer – proactive and reactive help – which are differentiated by whether or not assistance was requested.
If you are the go-getter and actively offering to help others, you’re proactively helping. If a co-worker approaches you and asks for assistance that you then give, you’re reactively helping, Johnson explained.
“What we found was that on the helper side, when people engage in proactive help, they often don’t have a clear understanding of recipients’ problems and issues, thus they receive less gratitude for it,” Johnson said. “On the recipient side, if people are constantly coming up to me at work and asking if I want their help, it could have an impact on my esteem and become frustrating. I’m not going to feel inclined to thank the person who tried to help me because I didn’t ask for it.”
Johnson surveyed 54 employees between the ages of 21 and 60 who worked full-time jobs across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, government, health care and education. He collected data over 10 days for a collective 232 daily observations to assess daily helping, receipt of gratitude, perceived positive social impact and work engagement.
With less gratitude for the helper and lower esteem for the person receiving help, Johnson explained that the respondents’ answers proved that proactive help has negative bearings on both sides – but for different reasons.
“Being proactive can have toxic effects, especially on the helper. They walk away receiving less gratitude from the person that they’re helping, causing them to feel less motivated at work the next day. More often than not, help recipients won’t express gratitude immediately, which makes it meaningless as it relates to the helper’s actual act,” Johnson said. “As for the person receiving the unrequested help, they begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy.”
In some ways, Johnson said that his research suggests workers mind their own business and not go looking for problems to solve. Ultimately, he said, help is good – but just wait to be asked for it.
“As someone who wants to help, just sit back and do your own work. That’s when you’ll get the most bang for your buck,” he said. “As the person receiving help, you should at a minimum express gratitude – and the sooner the better. If you wait a few days, it won’t have a positive impact on the helper.”.
Johnson’s next research will examine the ramifications of receiving help from recipients’ point of view, and how their reactions and feelings can shape the social climate at work.
How The Cannabis Industry Illuminates Changing Political Dynamics Between Private And Public Interests
According to the “Bootleggers and Baptists” theory of politics, coalitions of groups whose interests are usually at odds are more likely to be successful than one-sided coalitions. The theory is named after a classic instance in which bootleggers engaged in illegally producing and selling alcohol teamed up with Baptists to pass laws requiring liquor stores close on Sundays. Bootleggers got reduced competition for one day each week, while Baptists were happy that alcohol would not be sold on Sabbath. Thanks to the partnership, bootleggers had no need to press for new legislation, because Baptists lobbied state house members on their behalf.
The “Bootlegger and “Baptist” label now describe a large range of coalitions, although “bootlegger” no longer refers to groups engaged in illegal activity, but instead connotes groups taking political action in support of narrow economic gains. Similarly, “Baptists” now refers to groups that are not necessarily religiously motivated but espouse a greater moral purpose or advocate for the public interest. According to this theory, to achieve mutually beneficial policy victories, public interest groups are wise to team up with self-interested, usually profit-seeking lobby groups. The “bootleggers” make financial gains and sometimes share their takings with politicians while the “Baptists” allow politicians to offer moral rationales and gain the public’s trust.
This coalitional theory makes logical sense. However, in my research I utilize data from the legal cannabis industry in the United States to demonstrate that such partnerships may no longer be necessary. Today’s profit-driven, lobbying groups – like those in the burgeoning cannabis industry – may not need to partner with morally oriented organizations to achieve victories, and this shift will likely have major policy implications.
Public Interests and Private Enterprise
Historically, the Bootlegger-Baptist dynamic explained how public interest rationales could justify advantages to certain private enterprises. Of course, the private pursuit of regulatory benefits is unsurprising – even Adam Smith, the famed 18th-century economist and author, warned that early industrialists might seek to influence the law to increase profit. And mixed Bootlegger-Baptist coalitions helped such interests achieve their political goals, because private interests seeking a benefit from the government – a subsidy, a contract, or a tax break – could work with other groups that would assert a greater moral purpose.
Such mixed-purpose coalitions have taken many forms. Profit-driven groups may stealthily advance moral arguments, or sometimes, there may be many independent, socially oriented groups. Cooperative partnerships have formed to bolster support, in which profit-driven, lobbying groups fund the morally and socially oriented groups. More complex cases also exist, where political actors coordinate a mix of interest groups to accomplish many goals, including their own.
The New Dynamic
However, significant shifts in today’s regulatory and political landscape may be making Bootlegger-Baptist coalitions less necessary. My research suggests that it is becoming much easier for profit-seeking enterprises to influence policy without working with moral or social partners who give them cover. U.S. policymaking about legal cannabis (that is, marijuana) provides a useful window into these changing dynamics. This industry has grown rapidly, faces complex regulatory hurdles – such as federal illegality and a maze of varied state laws. In addition, the industry includes multiple “Bootlegger” parties interested in profiting from the shifting policy landscape, while at the same time having to contend with multiple “Baptist” groups interested in the social implications of legalization.
According to my research, profit-driven firms in the cannabis space have managed to circumvent the Bootlegger-Baptist dynamic by using two techniques.
- Pro-legalization groups have worked around strict regulation to achieve national presence, even in states where cannabis products do not have medical or recreational approval. For example, firms can invest in products and equipment that do not directly touch cannabis plants yet further the development of the product market. Groups lobbying on behalf of such investors free themselves from the need to work with moral and social allies to advance political goals.
- Profit-driven groups have learned to adopt the practices of orthodox businesses to downplay negative associations with the cannabis industry. Such groups build an agreeable corporate image by emphasizing profitability and coordinating diversity initiatives. When cannabis firms are viewed by the public as just another high-growth, socially inclusive industry, they may no longer need public-interest partners to achieve legalization. By aligning their businesses with mainstream corporate practices, cannabis firms (and other firms acting in this arena) may also find it easier to raise capital and gain trust from traditional investors.
New Laws and Regulatory Directions
Profit-driven “bootleggers” may push for rapid increases in cannabis sales in states with legal or medical cannabis. Given that states with legalized medical cannabis have higher rates of adolescent use, such increases in sales may well lead to much more adolescent use of cannabis, which is associated with mental illnesses.
State-level regulators may need to respond by tweaking new laws to deal with cannabis sales and use rising at higher rates than originally envisaged. This, in turn, may give new openings to morally and socially oriented advocacy and non-profit groups, who will press for larger roles in state regulation of the now-legal cannabis industry. Such advocates and non-profits will jump at the chance to ensure they are not left out of the discussion entirely, since profit-driven groups may have so far been able to advance their own ends without support, input, or even connection to public interest or citizens’ groups.
In sum, as many current cannabis legalization battles suggest, for-profit “bootlegger” groups can now win major legislative victories without allying with public-interest Baptists to give them moral cover. Nevertheless, struggles and, at times, surprising coalitions, between Bootleggers and Baptists are unlikely to disappear altogether – and they can re-emerge in ongoing regulatory arenas even when they did not shape original legislative steps. Forward-thinking legislators will take this into account and structure both laws and implementing processes to ensure that public interest groups are not cut out of the discussion altogether.
Read more in Navin Kumar, “The Changing Bootlegger/Baptist Dynamic: Evidence from the Legal Cannabis Space” (forthcoming).
The Untold Migration Story – How Improved Policies Can Benefit Both Receiving And Sending Societies
From the U.S. travel ban to the rise of anti-immigrant populists in Europe, politicians often decry migration in times of moral and economic crisis. Controversies can easily preclude a balanced understanding of what migration means – not only for immigrants and their new societies, but also for the places migrants leave behind.
Recent waves of migration from Africa and the Middle East are related not only to civil wars but also to unprecedented changes in climate and the environments where people live. Migrants often risk their lives when they step into a boat or take their first step into a desert in search of opportunity. Their stories spark heated debates in the media and in the public arena about who these people are and what the future holds for them. Politicians use them as bargaining chips in domestic negotiations and international collaborations. But for every immigrant who makes it to the Mediterranean Sea or to the tightening borders of Europe, there are hundreds who do not make it and will stay behind. Their stories are never told, and their struggles are often forgotten amid discussions about those who actually can migrate.
Migration and Climate Change
When people migrate as respond to climate change, it is generally assumed that things go even worse for the people who stay behind. In most cases this is true. People who stay behind face major changes in their livelihood — when agricultural yields go down, sea-levels go up, and severe weather threatens the life and health of all those who cannot afford to leave.
Sometimes, however, there are delightful twists to this doomsday scenario. When climate changes, skilled and educated people are usually the ones who can afford to migrate. The economies they leave behind are in increasingly dire need of skilled labor. In my research, I show that migration can actually help those remaining behind by creating strong incentives for them to develop skills. Unfortunately, this narrative is often left out of the immigration debate. Migration may not only be beneficial for those who leave, but more so for those who stay behind.
When more fortunate people leave a community to migrate in search of opportunities, others often look up to them in search of better life – for their children, even if they cannot afford it for themselves.
To study the impact of climate change on migration and population dynamics, I develop an overlapping generations model that considers two economic sectors: agriculture and industry. I also model two types of individuals: high skilled and low skilled. This allows me to study the impact of climate change not only on each sector but also on the parental decisions about the number of children to have and the quality of education provided to them. My results shed light on several aspects of climate change migration that are usually overlooked in migration debates and academic studies:
- High-skilled labor migration can create greater demand for higher education in the origin society.
- High-skilled labor migration can induce a rise in low-skilled wages and therefore help close the inequality gap in communities that remain.
- To maximize benefits at both ends of a migration stream, merit-based policies on the receiving end that favor skilled immigrants should be coupled with improved educational program at the sending end.
Migration is a powerful adaptation mechanism but it has its limitations. The impacts of climate change on the origin country can be only moderately alleviated – not abolished – when people choose to leave. Therefore, migration policies need to be carefully designed to bring most benefits for both sending and receiving countries.
Toward Improved Migration Policies in an Era of Climate Change
My work shows that migration has possible benefits for migrants’ origin countries, including by encouraging more people to strive for education. But motivations alone are not enough to break the “trap” and free local communities from suffering the severe impact of climate change. The international community, and host countries in particular, have moral obligations to climate-affected communities where many people will remain who cannot afford to migrate.
- Migration policies should be eased for skilled and educated immigrants – for instance, with more student visas and work permits. But even when it becomes easier for skilled people to migrate, only a small fraction of those who could migrate will actually do so. Of course, sending communities can face problems even when just a fraction of their most skilled people leave. But at the same time, those communities can gain by encouraging education and drawing new people into jobs that require knowledge and skill.
- The perspective I offer here implies that migration policies should be discussed and coordinated between sending and receiving countries. Unilateral polices do not work; often, for example, restrictions at the receiving end simply lead to the rise of human smuggling networks. Receiving societies could do better by facilitating the migration of qualified applicants – and at the same time working with the sending countries to improve investments in education and economic wellbeing for those who do not migrate.
Read more in Soheil Shayegh, “Outward Migration May Alter Population Dynamics and Income Inequality” Nature Climate Change 7 (October 2017): 828–832
How Universities Can Better Support Student Caregivers
More than half of family caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 49 years old – and as the U.S. population ages, increasing numbers of these caregivers will be enrolled in colleges. Often categorized as “nontraditional students,” college-enrolled caregivers are responsible for children, spouses, and dependent parents with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Nontraditional students of all kinds are more likely to drop out of higher education because of obstacles in their non-academic lives, and this certainly holds true for those who have to balance caregiving with their studies.
Historically, Student Affairs professionals have developed programs and services to meet the challenges faced by underrepresented and underserved students. Given the growing prevalence of student caregivers, academic institutions should keep their needs in mind when distributing funds and creating student support services. While each student caregiving experience is unique, the fundamentals are constant. Very often, student caregivers must choose between attending to a human being for whom they are responsible or attending to academic tasks.
Students managing such choices, balancing caregiving and academic demands, face significant barriers. For example, the amount of time they are able to spend with faculty and advisors is often limited by their caregiving responsibilities. Furthermore, efforts to disseminate information about support services on college campuses typically focuses on traditional students and thus may miss or leave out nontraditional students who are not part of established campus communication channels.
Student-Centered Teaching Can Help Caregivers
Student-centered teaching focuses on individual learning needs to promote persistence and success. Effective student-centered instruction is based on the understanding that one size does not fit all. When an instructor makes accommodations for student caregivers as emergencies arise, such flexibility demonstrates empathy and can promote success rather than indicate compromised standards.
Consider the following examples from the lives of student caregivers I interviewed in my research:
- Waldo told me about his experience during his first year of college. He began caring for his mom, who had Huntington’s Disease, while he was in high school. He grew up in poverty and was the first person in his family to go to college. He chose to stay at home and commute to college so he could continue to care for his mom and save money. During finals week of his freshman year, his mom required brain surgery because of a fall. He asked his statistics professor if he could take the final at an alternative time due to his mom’s surgery. The professor replied that it was his choice whether he came to the final or not, but he would not alter the time.
- Alex, an assistant professor, cared for his mom who had a stroke while he was completing his PhD. He told me he was lucky the stroke occurred around Thanksgiving, when he had a break from the regular requirements of the semester. As he navigated his mom’s recovery, Alex only had to negotiate with his dissertation chair – who allowed him to alter deadlines to ensure he had the time he needed to care for his mom.
Alex’s dissertation chair practiced student-centered teaching, while Waldo’s professor did not. The advantages to students of such teaching are evident, especially for student caregivers, who need a flexible learning environment to succeed academically and develop healthy coping skills while contending with the overriding needs of those for whom they care.
Student Caregivers, Technology, Insurance, and Health
Student caregivers are at a higher risk for stress-related illnesses than their peers, due to their time constraints and intersecting roles; and such difficulties can be compounded when students lack the time and resources to develop healthy coping strategies. Nevertheless, higher education policies have the potential to improve long-term health outcomes for student caregivers by providing access to appropriate supports and resources. Health is at the core of student learning and success. It is in the interest of university administration to ensure access to institutional support and resources, as the following examples suggest:
- Natalia, a PhD candidate and caregiver, struggled with anxiety and depression. Her dissertation advisor empathized with her situation and allowed her to work remotely instead of commuting to campus when her mom needed care. She was fortunate to have access to all of the university’s technological resources while at home caring for her mom. Natalia’s advisor also encouraged her to apply for emergency funds. The flexibility and knowledge about university resources that Natalia’s advisor provided, helped her develop and employ healthy coping strategies.
- Anne, a master’s degree student, told me about the university resources she received as a student caregiver. Assistive technology provided by her university was installed on her personal computer, allowing Anne, her husband, and their children to navigate various tools for coping with learning disabilities. Student health insurance provided by the university allowed her to get allergy shots, orthotics, and counseling to cope with anxiety and depression. Financial aid both increased and decreased stress. She worried about paying back the loans, but before she enrolled in graduate school her family did not have the financial reserves to weather a crisis.
Toward Equity for Student Caregivers
Like other students, caregivers seek higher education to improve their economic and social resources, but they face many obstacles and graduate less often than traditional students. To level the playing field for all students, administrators should ensure all students have access to health insurance, appropriate personally tailored learning technologies, and the flexible schedules and supportive resources they need to study even when caring for others. Colleges, students, and society alike only stand to benefit if student caregivers face easier routes to degrees.
Read more in Lisa Schumacher, “The Lived Experience of Student Caregivers: A Phenomenological Study,” University of Iowa, 2018.
Why There Are Better Alternatives Than Punitive Policies Targeting Homeless People
Homelessness is a pressing problem in many U.S. cities. In response, many local governments have enacted controversial measures such as restrictions on public health services or prohibitions on eating, sleeping, sitting or storing property in public spaces. Sometimes called “nuisance” or “quality of life” measures, such steps seem designed to reduce the visibility of unsheltered individuals and families; and they can be used to forcibly remove unsheltered people from parks, sidewalks, and streets.
Unfortunately, such policies do not offer meaningful solutions to homelessness, and they can actually make the problem worse – by exacerbating instabilities for those without permanent shelter. They also cause distress, stigmatize the homeless, and risk violating civil rights. Consequently, federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Interagency Council on Homelessness have criticized laws that criminalize “acts of living.”
How City Ordinances Targeting the Homeless Prove Counterproductive
City ordinances targeting the homeless are counterproductive in several ways:
By increasing financial insecurity. Economic need is a well-recognized cause of homelessness, and official citations or fines can exacerbate financial instability among those without permanent housing. What is more, when city officials enforce anti-homeless ordinances by confiscating property, already struggling households must expend scarce resources to replace food, clothing, medicines, work supplies or household goods.
By limiting access to jobs, services, and social support. Citations may lead to warrants or create criminal records, prompting cycles of criminalization. Moreover, studies have documented that these citations and fines can hinder access to employment and social services. Restrictions on activity in public spaces, especially in downtown areas, can prevent access to services, employment or educational opportunities. And when anti-homeless policies involve forced relocations, they can disrupt social support networks.
By promoting stigmatization and threatening civil liberties. Quality of life laws are often motivated by negative stereotypes and have been found to promote public stigmatization of unsheltered families. They can also heighten mistrust of public officials and service providers by people in need of their support. And in some of these laws have been found to violate constitutionally protected rights – which can lead to costly legal fees and court settlements for municipalities and their taxpayers.
The Example of Anti-Homeless Ordinances in Honolulu
The crisis of homelessness and the damaging impacts of punitive ordinances have been especially visible in Honolulu. In 2015, the state of Hawaii had the highest rate of homelessness in the United States, and Honolulu had one of the highest numbers of homeless people among in small cities. Honolulu has also become notorious for criminalizing actions including legal bans against sitting or lying on sidewalks in several districts and restrictions on storing property in spaces or living in parks. Enforcement of these city ordinances has resulted in “sweeps” or “raids” of homeless encampments in Honolulu.
Officials, business owners and members of the public are understandably concerned about ways in which visible homeless encampments could harm the city’s image, undercutting tourism, real-estate, and other commercial enterprises. But many people are unaware of the public and private costs inflicted by anti-homeless ordinances. A recent study found that the enforcement of Honolulu’s sidewalk property and nuisance ordinances, as well as sit-lie bans, has caused stress, and trauma. Respondents impacted by city ordinances and raids reported feeling violated, hurt, and ashamed — and “less than human.”
Homeless households also reported the loss of medicines, food, work supplies, children’s school materials, and official identification documents like state IDs or licenses. Such losses can create obstacles to accessing services, health care, nutritional assistance, work or income support, and employment. In Honolulu, homeless individuals have often lost their possessions or were forced either to pay up to $250 to retrieve property from a distant location or to go through a difficult and often logistically impossible waiver process.
City enforcement actions have required households to move, relocate, or lose the belongings they depend upon for basic survival. Relocation is especially burdensome for parents with children, persons with physical or mental disabilities, the sick and the elderly. Seizure of property can be traumatic, which is concerning since past experience with physical or domestic abuse is one risk factor for homelessness.
Research finds that Housing First policies provide an effective solution to chronic homelessness. Such strategies couple intensive support services and outreach to homeless people with the provision of stable housing. Honolulu has made wise investments in Housing First, with positive results. However, Honolulu’s raids and sweeps on homeless households or encampments work in opposition to its positive housing initiatives, because punitive measures can create a climate of fear, mistrust, and chaos that undermines engaged public outreach to help the homeless.
In Honolulu, approximately $700,000 per year has been spent on managing and disposing of property and enforcing anti- homeless ordinances. A recent court settlement found that the city of Honolulu violated constitutional rights against seizure of property without due process, making the city and county liable for legal fees and compensation for a class of plaintiffs.
Instead of spending resources on punishment and legal cases, Honolulu and other localities could devote resources to more permanent solutions – by expanding Housing First programs and supplementing them with additional steps such as rapid-rehousing, emergency rental relief to prevent eviction, and investments to increase the availability of low-income rental housing. Honolulu, like many high cost-of-living locales, should seek to maximize investments in public housing maintenance as well as in inclusionary zoning and rental assistance and tax credit programs to encourage more construction of low-income rentals.
Read more in Jennifer Darrah-Okike, Sarah Soakai, Susan Nakaoka, Tai Dunson-Strane, and Karen Umemoto. “‘It Was Like I Lost Everything’: The Harmful Impacts of Homeless-Targeted Policies.” Housing Policy Debate, (2018).
Global Social Welfare Digital Summit Call for Proposals: Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Social Change
SWHELPER will host its four day annual virtual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit beginning on February 25th through February 28th, 2020. The Summit’s primary goal is to enhance practice for helping professionals by using technology to eliminate geographical borders for training, networking, and collaboration.
“Our goal is to use an interdisciplinary approach for helping professionals to provide news, information, and resources critical to global knowledge sharing,” says Deona Hooper, SWHELPER Founder and Editor-in-Chief, and host of the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit.
The virtual format transcends geographic locations and expands learning to a global classroom. “Most importantly, it allows us to provide the same great content as an in person conference yet at a more affordable rate. Our four-day conference will focus on Activism, Health Care, Trauma Informed Care, Prevention and Solutions,” Deona concludes.
Call for Proposals
We are looking for speakers who are interested in giving presentations from micro to macro perspectives on topics of ethics, technology, research, policy and other related themes. All speakers are exempted from paying the participation fee and will have free access to all four days of the conference. Additionally, each speaker will get a dedicated page where he/she can promote their work and products as well as free marketing and promotion leading up to the Summit.
- There are no fees for speakers. All presenters will be given a four-day pass to the live conference along with 1-year access to view all recorded presentation if they can not attend the other presentations live.
- We will create graphics and posts for each presenter to promote on SWHELPER social media.
- SWHELPER will publish articles recognizing all speakers chosen to present at the 2020 Summit.
The call for proposals is open, and it will end on September 15th, 2019. Visit https://on.swhelper.org/2LyU54D for more information. Global Welfare Digital Summit will work with other media outlets to arrange interviews for speakers who want to discuss their work and presentations for the Summit.
About SWHELPER is a woman-owned, award-winning, mission-driven, and progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment for the social good. Our audience is comprised of academics, policymakers, social workers, students, mental health practitioners, helping professionals, caregivers, and people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis. Visit us at www.swhelper.org
Why U.S. Government Agencies Need Comprehensive Policies For Employees With Various Gender Identities
Sex and gender identities are becoming increasingly complex in America, creating new challenges for public administrative agencies. So far, the vast majority of U.S. federal agencies lack comprehensive transgender employee policies – which are currently in place for only nine of approximately 235 federal agencies (including sub-agencies).
Yet as the workforce evolves, federal employment policy must accommodate the needs of employees who do not fit traditional sex and gender categories – and particular attention needs to be paid to formulating policies specifying the responsibilities of employers when their employees undergo transitions meant to shift their anatomy or appearance to align with their gender identity.
What Should a Transgender Policy Include?
Employee policies specifically fashioned by agencies to deal with transgender issues should, at a minimum, cover matters that arise when employees undergo transition processes; restrooms and locker rooms; dress codes; and the use of proper names and pronouns. Many benefits come from transgender-specific employee policies. Such measures can educate supervisors and coworkers about what to expect when someone transitions in the workplace and, by providing protocols to follow, help supervisors and coworkers become more comfortable with and supportive of workplace transitions.
Transgender employees also benefit and gain a sense of security when specific policies are in place. Each federal agency should create its own internal set of transgender-relevant policies, to educate all employees and help transgender employees understand their rights and know where to go for assistance. More can be said about each of the major issues a good policy needs to address.
When Employees Go through Transitions
In the absence of a comprehensive transgender policy, most agencies are left unprepared when employees change their anatomy or appearance to align with their felt gender identity. An effective way to prepare for such processes is to spell out the agency’s workplace transition protocol. Without such an explicit plan, transgender employees who want to transition do not know where to go to begin the process or where they can find answers about what a transition might entail for an agency employee. Additionally, without a standard set of practices, agencies do not know what is required to change all applicable records. Confusion can leave transgender employees scrambling to deal with many different record changes. Submitting requests and medical records to many places can be unnecessarily cumbersome and intrusive.
Plans for Restrooms and Locker Rooms
One aspect of transgender employee policy that has garnered significant attention – and sometimes controversy – is the issue of who uses which restrooms and locker-rooms. A key example comes from North Carolina’s “House Bill 2” that banned individuals from using public restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex assigned at birth. The United States Department of Justice declared this law in violation of Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
Openly transgender employees have, at times, been discouraged or outright or prohibited from using the restroom or locker room that correspond to their gender identities. Many federal employees use a locker room to change into their uniforms or when they enter the agency gym. Additionally, some jobs, like those in the Forest Service, necessitate the use of showers in the locker room. Existing open-shower floor plans in many facilities may not afford transgender individuals a sense of privacy and safety that everyone should have in their workplace. Inside particular workplaces, conflicts and awkward situations can often be headed off by spelling out clear guidelines for appropriate restroom and locker-room use by all employees, including transgender individuals.
Flexible Dress Codes
A comprehensive transgender policy could also resolve problems related to dress codes. Overall, transgender individuals should be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity; failure to do so could cause harm to their mental health. Obviously, this applies to employees who have gone through transitions. In addition, although dress code policies often assume that all individuals fall into a female-male binary; many individuals identify in non-binary ways. Someone who identifies as gender neutral, for example, may not fit into sex-specific dress codes.
Because it is discriminatory for employers to force transgender people to conform to gender norms, an agency-specific transgender policy should articulate dress and grooming standards that allow employees to dress and groom in ways that are consistent with varied gender identities. The policy should state that no employee will be required to dress and groom in conformance with a particular sex or gender stereotype.
Respectful Use of Proper Names and Pronouns
Another concern to be addressed is the proper use of the name and pronoun corresponding to a transgender individual’s gender identity. After a person transitions, managers and coworkers often use the wrong name and pronoun. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2013 that the intentional and repeated misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and pronoun could harm the employee and thus substantiate a claim of sex-based discrimination and harassment. A further issue is that agencies often have no policy about pronoun use for individuals who request designations other than the traditional “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her.”
When coworkers refuse to use the correct pronoun for a transgender colleague it is disrespectful. The Office of Personnel Management should expand the definition of “transgender” to include gender non-binary employees and clearly communicate this definition to agencies. Transgender policies for each agency should include clear guidelines indicating that all employees – including transgender, non-binary, and other gender non-conforming employees – are entitled, both verbally and in writing, to be called by their preferred name and pronouns.
Read more in Nicole M. Elias, “Constructing and Implementing Transgender Policy for Public Administration” Administration and Society 49 no. 1, (2017): 20-47.
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