It’s Not Just the NFL – Hazing Probably Happens in Your Workplace, Too

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, a veteran offensive lineman — who is white — decides rookie offensive lineman — who is black — isn’t being man enough (whatever that means). So, the veteran lineman begins hazing the rookie to help make him tougher by leaving racist voice mails, threatening the rookie’s family, trying to force him to pay for $30,000 dinners.

This Miami Dolphins veteran feels this is normal NFL rookie hazing behavior, when most NFL rookie hazing behavior usually includes carrying a veteran’s luggage at away games, carrying shoulder pads off the practice field, maybe buying some donuts for morning meetings, or picking up some pizzas for lunch.

A long tradition of some form of workplace “hazing”

The rookie this veteran decided to haze was a Stanford graduate, with parents who are Harvard graduates.

So, where do you think this is going?

The question comes up constantly in workplaces — and the NFL should be considered a workplace — that 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.

For example, Phil Knight, the Godfather of Nike, wrote 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 one. Yes, it’s 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!)  It’s hazing, all the same.

A simple question you have to answer

I’m sure, as you read this, that you are thinking of things that happen in your own company, like,  “We decorate people’s 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 jeans day.”  All harmless, all hazing.

So 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.?

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I wonder how many of us admonish this veteran Miami Dolphins 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 own organizations?

Part of a societal norm

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, or in the sales bullpen and cube farm.

We allow hazing because it has become a societal norm. It’s the old, “Well, I went through it, and 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 an NFL player was doing — he was simply 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” kind of  just happens. Yes, whether we like it or not, our culture happens.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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