Can I still be a gentleman?
This whole political correctness thing is getting mad. My company has strict equality and diversity policies. I’m not a nasty person, but sometimes I get a sarcastic look when trying to be a gent by holding a door open for a woman at work. But when I didn’t volunteer to help out one day when a lady from another department was moving things for an event exhibition, another female colleague shot me a harsh look. It’s hard being a man these days; how am I supposed to know where to draw the line?
What you have described relates to a breakdown in communication. In our increasingly diverse workplaces, it is important for organisations to not only have clear and concise guidelines, but to foster an environment where any issues can be discussed and resolved openly.
You highlighted the effect your colleagues’ looks had on you. They may be unaware of this effect. What this should tell you is that offence can be subjective.
HR policy documents and behavioural guidelines can be helpful, but ultimately, open and honest communication can release any tension caused by the inevitable misunderstandings
While some actions are clearly inappropriate, the challenge is being aware of actions that could be misconstrued. You may not have done anything wrong, but you might be showing a lack of sensitivity about something you might not be aware of.
Looking at your specific example, I would suggest first speaking with your HR manager to understand whether there is an employee handbook on appropriate behaviour in your workplace.
Every workplace is different, therefore you may also be able to get specific advice from your HR manager on how to approach the situation.
You might also want to think about how to communicate more effectively with your colleagues. If you feel your actions, however inadvertently, have caused tension, then address them directly. Ask: “Did I cause offence by holding the door open for you, or by not helping with the event exhibition?” Apologise if you have offended them.
By proactively and professionally addressing a situation, you will often find that it was merely a misunderstanding and more open and transparent communication will evolve.