If you follow sports, especially NFL football, you haven’t been able to get away from the nonstop coverage of the hazing issue that took place with the Miami Dolphins between two of their offensive lineman. Long story short, veteran offensive lineman, who is white, decides rookie offensive lineman, who is black, isn’t being man enough (whatever that means). So, veteran begins hazing him to get him tougher by leaving racist voice mails, threatening the rookie’s family, trying to force him to pay for $30,000 dinners. This Miami Dolphin veteran feels this is normal NFL rookie hazing behavior, which usually includes carrying a veteran’s luggage at away games, carrying shoulder pads off practice field, maybe buying some donuts for morning meetings, or picking up some pizzas for lunch. The rookie he decided to haze was a Stanford graduate, with parents who are Harvard graduates. Where do you think this is going?
The question comes up constantly in workplaces, of which the NFL should be considered a workplace, shouldn’t ‘some’ hazing be allowed? It’s easy for all of us to say “NO!” It’s hard for us to know that in many, many instances our positive, not negative, workplace culture is built on many forms of hazing. Phil Knight, the Godfather of Nike, wrote in his own autobiography, Just Do It, that his own sales reps, called ‘Ekins’ (Nike backwards), all got Nike swoosh tattoos on their calf when they were hired. It wasn’t required, but if you wanted to ‘fit’ in, you got it. Hazing at one of the largest, most successful companies in the world.
At my own company we tell new recruiters that they have to use their first commission check to buy everyone a round of drinks. Knowing that this check will never cover the amount of what that tab will be. (For the record – we just threaten this and don’t tell them the truth, but I always get the tab!) Hazing, all the same.
I’m sure, as you read this, that you are thinking of things that happen in your own company. “We decorate peoples cubes for their birthdays” or “We make the new employee stand up in a meeting and share their most embarrassing moment” or “We don’t let the new employees know when it’s jean’s day”. All harmless, all hazing.
Show it comes down to one small question: Should you allow hazing or not?
Or do you just call it something different like, cultural norms, team building, trust exercises, initiation, rite of passage, a test of loyalty, etc.?
I wonder how many of us admonish this veteran Miami Dolphin player (who for the record isn’t a choir boy) as a monster, while we turn a blind-eye to what is going on in our organizations. What is happening in Miami, and I’m sure many sports franchises, fraternities/sororities, college locker rooms, etc., is very similar to what is happening in the hallways of your office building, on the floor of your manufacturing facility, sales bullpen and cube farm.
We allow hazing because it has become a societal norm. “Well, I went through it, so should everyone else that comes after me.” “Getting the tattoo is part of ‘who’ we are.” “She’s ‘one’ of us, she gets it.” This is what a NFL player was doing. He was doing what he was taught to do by those before him. By the culture he was working in. No controls. Just culture. The funny thing about culture is that ‘it’ happens. Whether we like it or not, our culture happens.
The idea that one needs to become “one of us” by submitting to initiation rituals is age old; yet the difference between inclusive and welcoming rituals and those that humiliate, embarrass, shame or harm is not just a simple twist of rhetoric, but a true reflection of underlying organizational empathy. Does it occur to you that getting a tattoo as a requirement for a job immediately eliminates from hiring observant Jews, who are prohibited from tattooing their bodies, or that buying everyone a drink would be offensive or outright impossible for practicing Muslims who abstain from alcohol? I think your conflating decorating cubes with alienating rites of entry and passage is worthy of deeper reflection and more critical thinking.
Culture does happen. Because culture is people. But that’s why it’s so important that people stand up for the things that they believe in, or want, or don’t feel are right — as in this case. I happen to believe hazing is probably not everyone’s favorite. I’ve always been happy to be a girl — we are more civilized in this way. 😉 But when it comes to culture everyone can affect change. And you don’t have to be a 260lb lineman.