If you’re reading this article, we’re guessing you’ve been harassed and you’re thinking about it a lot. When we’ve interviewed people, they’ve described themselves as “obsessing” or “ruminating” about the harassment. Maybe that’s true for you.
We’re going to ask you to do something that may seem a little weird.
We’re going to ask you to pretend for a moment that the harassment never happened. Just put it out of your head.
Then take a couple of minutes and think about these questions. We’re not going to ask you to do anything with the answers. We’re just asking you to think.
- What do you like about your current job, and what do you dislike?
- When you think about yourself five or 10 years from now, what job do you hope you’ll have?
- What plans do you have to get there?
Now, try asking yourself these questions:
- What’s the obvious next step in my career?
- If I got a really great promotion, something that would make my friends and family really proud, what would that job be?
- In a complete fantasy world, where I could do anything, what’s a job that I might find incredibly satisfying, where other people might be surprised to see me in it?
Now take a minute to think about what kinds of jobs you like.
- Do you like stability and security, or do you prefer novelty and fun and excitement?
- Do you like a job that’s calm and steady, or do you prefer time pressure and a fast pace?
- Do you like to work alone, or do you prefer being part of a team?
- Do you want work–life balance, or is work your number one priority?
- Do you want to feel like your work is making the world a better place, or do you want to be creative, solve challenging problems, make a lot of money, or have power and authority?
Why are we asking you these questions?
Because sexual harassment has a way of pulling people off track and making them forget their own goals.
It totally makes sense. You didn’t ask to be harassed, you weren’t expecting it, and you probably don’t have a plan for handling it. So it makes sense that it would be an “interrupting” kind of event, and you’d need to drop everything else to figure out how to handle it.
That’s okay and normal and fine, for a while. But there comes a point where you are going to want it to stop.
If the harasser can drag you off course and force you to spend tons of time thinking about them and how to handle the harassment—well, then we think the harasser kind of wins. You’re all tied up in knots and running around in circles and meanwhile they’re…totally fine.
We want you to win.
So we want to make this super clear.
The number one way to protect your career is to stay focused on your career.
That’s what we want for you.
How to protect your career if you’ve reported the harassment
It might feel hard to focus on your work while you’re being harassed. We get that. It is hard. So here are some tips.
If you’ve reported the harassment, as soon as you can afterward, try to find opportunities to talk with your boss about other things
It doesn’t really matter what you talk about. The point is to have some normal, ordinary conversations with your boss that are not about the harassment. Your goal is to show them that you’re the same person you were before you reported the harassment, so you can have a normal working relationship where they don’t feel awkward around you. So they can see you more like “Alex, my employee,” and less like “Alex, who’s created a huge problem for me and the company.”
Try to discourage other people from pigeonholing you as “that person who got sexually harassed”
You can develop some scripts for this. Like, “I don’t really want to talk or think about the harassment too much; let’s talk about something else.” Or “I reported the harassment and now for me it’s basically over. It’s between him and the company now, it’s got nothing to do with me.” Or “To me, getting harassed was just a bad thing that happened, like a car crash or getting robbed. I would really like to just move on.”
Try to discourage people from imagining the situation as a personal dispute between you and the harasser
You can develop scripts for this too. Like, “Before this happened, I hardly knew that guy. I barely even knew his name.” Or “I have no idea why someone would do something like that. I was just doing my job and then, out of nowhere, he did that. It’s so weird.” Or “I actually don’t really have an opinion on what the company should do about him. I’m not a harassment expert or an HR person, so how would I know?”
Try to refocus people on thinking about you as a worker, an employee, with goals and hopes and dreams
This is really important. Try to seek out people who you think might be able to help you with your career, either at your job or outside it. Be open with them about your hopes and dreams for your work. Encourage them to tell you about opportunities, to recommend you for jobs, to tell other people you’re great. Other people can help your career a lot, but they can’t do it unless they know what you want.
That’s our advice.
If none of it is working and things are going badly for you, then we want to seriously advise you to consider job hunting. Sometimes getting a new job is the best way to protect your career—and if that’s true for you, it’s better to start looking early, before your career gets too messed up.
How to protect your career if you stay at work and don’t report
This one’s easy. If you stay at work and don’t report, your career may not get damaged at all.
In this scenario, the harassment eventually stops, or you figure out ways to shut it down or safely ignore it. You don’t need to change anything significant about your work to stay safe. Nobody gossips about you. And eventually you stop thinking about the whole thing.
Things often do play out this way, and if it’s what happens for you, that’s great. But you can’t count on it.
What sometimes actually happens instead is that you think you’re coping okay, but in reality the harassment is taking up a ton of your time and emotional energy. You’re “fine” (you’re not a mess, you’re surviving), but you just don’t have the time and energy you used to have for your work, and so you do less well at it.
Or, you’re not fine at all. The harassment is grinding you down and messing with your mental health. It happens so slowly that you don’t even notice it. But one day you realize you’re actually kind of a mess.
You don’t want that. So you need to keep an eye on yourself.
We recommend you check in on yourself. You can do it every day, or once a week. Maybe set a calendar reminder. Once in a while, ask yourself these questions:
- When was the last time I thought about the harassment?
- When was the last time I did something differently because of the harassment?
- Is the harassment making it harder for me to do my job?
If you don’t like the answers to those questions, it might be time to start job hunting.
How to protect your career if you quit your job
By now you know that we think quitting your job might be a good way to protect your career.
It’s not fair and you shouldn’t have to do it, but realistically, sometimes it’s the best decision.
- How to decide whether to quit your job—and how to make that work
- How to decide whether to change your career to get away from harassment—and how to make that work