Diversity & Inclusion

Do It Like Google: Guidelines on Workplace Behavior

Here in Delaware, most employers are in the midst of a mad dash to get all employees trained on sexual harassment prevention—consistent with House Bill 360—before the deadline for compliance on December 31, 2019. One of the best lessons to incorporate in that training is what topics are and are not appropriate for the workplace. And Google has some news for us on that front!behavior

Where Google Leads, We Follow

For all its foibles, Google is a large organization with extraordinary resources to devote to human capital management and development. And it often provides good food for thought in terms of new management trends.

The most recent trend coming out of Google is guidance from the top on appropriate workplace topics. Work-related discussions and exchanges of ideas are in. Small talk and politics are out. These are great guidelines, and here’s why.

The Good, the Bad, and the Obvious

Some of what Google addresses in its most recent guidelines should be obvious: no name-calling and bullying. In addition, managers are counseled to crack down on offensive speech and behavior. The rules should be intuitive to everyone in a professional workforce.

The excuse of “I was just joking” should be tossed out with the trash. Workplace communications should be professional. And when someone is offended by a comment and is brave enough to speak up in a respectful manner, the response should be an apology and a swift effort at resolution.

What Did You Do This Weekend?

Some of Google’s other guidance has proven to be a bit more controversial, including the instruction to steer clear of small talk. Some level of small talk is essential to meaningful human connections. But these conversations are best left at a superficial level.

When employees become deeply involved in one another’s personal triumphs and tragedies—personal illnesses, relationship problems, family conflicts—it leads to dangerous territory. The intimate details of our personal lives are inextricably intertwined with our membership in a variety of protected categories: race, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, pregnancy. And these are topics about which we may be very sensitive and easily get upset. As a result, it’s easy for well-intentioned inquiries to feel invasive or inappropriate.

Similarly, when we talk politics, we get upset. In the case of Google, the company indicated its new guidelines were in response to “a year of increased incivility on our internal platforms.”

Google, as one might expect, provides a host of internal networking and communication options beyond simple e-mail and voice mail. Employees use these platforms to establish various affinity groups. The resulting communications were often political. And as we all know, it can be difficult to keep your cool when discussing divisive political issues such as reproductive rights and immigration.

Employees Appreciate Structure

In response to certain objections, Google has indicated its new guidance was issued in response to employee requests for clarity on what’s OK and what isn’t. Many employers have received the same feedback.

In a world in which employees increasingly feel anyone with a gripe can get them fired, they appreciate clear guidelines. Especially in the ever-evolving realm of gender identity and the blossoming focus on sexual harassment, behavior that was acceptable only five years ago is now completely out of bounds.

Similarly, employees may be confused when they mirror behavior they see from well-known stars and politicians and find themselves on the receiving end of disciplinary action in the workplace. So giving everyone the courtesy of clear boundaries is often well received.

Bottom Line

The modern workforce is more diverse and inclusive than ever. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate for everyone. Focusing on work-related communications and getting back to the essential elements of professional communication help everyone know what’s expected of them. So let’s all take a note from Google and recommit ourselves to a respectful workplace.

Lauren E.M. Russell is an attorney with Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP. She can be reached at lrussell@ycst.com.