Should Companies Provide ‘Safe Spaces’ for Employees?

For those who don't know, safe spaces are spots where people can isolate themselves from situations they find distasteful or disturbing.

Should Companies Provide ‘Safe Spaces’ for Employees?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We don’t want all that stress to get to you, though — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I keep reading about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” that are cropping up in colleges. Seems to me, with all the things that go on where I work, companies should consider adopting them, too. What do you think? — Frank P., Chicago

For the unenlightened, Frank is talking about the trend on college campuses to offer written warnings when courses cover controversial, offensive and/or sensitive subjects (e.g., rape, domestic violence, harassment, bullying, race, religion, etc.). Think of safe spaces as the physical manifestation of such trigger warnings — rooms and other spots on campus where students can separate or isolate themselves from situations and people they find distasteful or disturbing. (This is the apolitical explanation; Google “trigger warnings and safe spaces,” and you’ll find an endless amount of opinions on what this means for freedom of speech and expression — from the left, right and center.)

At the office, however, you don’t need safe spaces or trigger warnings because there are federal, state and local laws preventing harassment or a hostile work environment. And there are company policies that keep the most patently offensive language and behavior from entering the workplace in the first place. Some companies even go so far as to prohibit politicking or religious displays as a way of ensuring that other employees won’t be offended in the slightest.

It’s well within their rights: Unless you work for a government entity, you have no constitutional rights in the workplace — i.e., the Supreme Court has always said that private employers can pretty much do what they want as long as they don’t violate federal laws. Bye, bye Bill of Rights! That’s why your boss can search your locker, tell you what to wear and forbid certain posters and pictures from ever hanging from your cubicle.

But the most important difference between the office and a college campus is that the workplace is filled with adults who share a common purpose to be productive and get paid—you’re not there to debate the celebrity or political scandal of the day. In other words, at the office, you control your own trigger warnings and the safe spaces are the HR department or your manager’s office.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.