Workplace harassment and discrimination can lead to low morale, absenteeism, and legal issues. The advent of the #MeToo movement has shown just how severe the issue of sexual harassment is within professional settings.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), over 60% of women faced sexual harassment in the workplace at least once. In the European Union, up to 75% of women working in a professional capacity or top management positions have experienced sexual harassment. Thus, it is clear that the current workplace practices to curb harassment and discrimination are far from adequate.
In some cases, the anti-harassment training for employees makes it an even more hostile environment.
Besides the typical preventive measures, there are other ways to foster a safe, harassment-free space for employees. Here are 7 strategies to prevent workplace harassment.
7 Strategies to Prevent Workplace Harassment
1. Emphasize The Company’s Commitment Against Sexual Harassment
Perpetrators are often encouraged to continue their vile behaviors as they are under the impression they will not be reported or can excuse themselves from the accusation. Many workplaces do not handle sexual harassment allegations appropriately, making employees feel that reporting such incidences may cause more harm to themselves.
It is also vital to educate employees on what constitutes sexual harassment. Regular policy reviews should reiterate what behaviors will not be tolerated within the workplace. These policies should be communicated frequently, rather than once a year, through internal communications and during team meetings.
The leaders/management within the organization must set the tone on what is not tolerated in the company. Research has shown that sexual harassment is not considered a serious issue among employees when the leader is tepid and has instances of downplaying such incidences.
Conversely, workspaces where the leader has made it clear what behaviors will not be tolerated, have employees that also consider harassment a priority problem. Therefore, leaders need to ensure all employees are aware that sexual harassment is a priority issue in the company.
This message should be coming from all levels of the organization, not just HR. It must be clear that perpetrators will be held accountable regardless of their position in the company.
When the top executives hammer down how serious they are about this issue, the managers and employees will treat sexual harassment prevention training exercises as a priority. Prevention training is often not enough. Employees must also be equipped with ways to stop the harassment.
2. Clearly Define Sexual Harassment
One of the reasons why sexual harassment is underreported or downplayed is that the employees and managers are not aware of what it includes. Their idea of inappropriate behavior may not be as extensive as it needs to be. Hence, it is important to specify what actions and behaviors constitute sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is not limited to inappropriate physical contact. It includes all forms of undesirable, unacceptable behaviors, including sexual comments and watching inappropriate content.
The issue of sexual harassment can also stem from unchecked, low-risk behaviors and comments. It will affect team morale and relationships as employees may feel unsafe around people who exhibit such behaviors.
There is a significant chance that these low-risk acts will eventually evolve into a more serious issue. It is imperative that managers and employees are also educated on what are the forms of subtle sexual harassment.
3. Use Positive Sexual Harassment Training
People do not like criticism, especially when they do not explicitly ask for it. Most sexual harassment training seminars and anti-harassment training for employees are held in a negative tone. This can often make the employees feel as if they are being personally accused of engaging in such acts or that they are capable of doing so.
Under prevention research, it is shown that a positive approach is more effective in communicating the core message and also improves employee engagement in creating an ideal work environment.
This can help motivate employees to actively cultivate a respectful culture in the organization. This approach is less aggressive than the typical fear-based harassment and discrimination prevention training that focuses on bad behavior and the related consequences.
You can also seek the help of experts for meticulous training that is proven to deliver results and increase workplace productivity.
4. Go Beyond the Legal Ramifications
As part of the negative approach to sexual harassment prevention, many seminars and training sessions emphasize the legal repercussions of sexual harassment allegations. While it is necessary to mention them for compliance reasons, they should not be the main base for anti-harassment, sexual harassment training.
The use of legal language and laws to define what is considered acceptable workplace behavior will result in employees assuming they can act in any manner they wish as long as it is not illegal.
The quality of standard behavior to enforce in the workplace greatly diminishes. It also gives the message that the organization is only concerned with lawsuits rather than the safety of its employees.
A more effective method of prevention would be to actively encourage the expected positive and ideal behavior from the employees. This would act as a better influence than merely educating them about legal violations.
However, this does not mean that it should not be discussed at all. The legal aspect should simply be balanced out with additional training techniques that demonstrate the better standard of conduct that the company wants to foster. It will be a reflection of the organization’s values, policies, and culture.
Some laws mandate the constitution of a sexual harassment committee with equal representation from employees of both gender and the management. Robust reporting & complaint processing processes must be put in place to resolve the issue and restore the status quo as effectively and soon as possible.
5. Empower Employees To Establish Harassment-Free Workplace
It is not the sole duty of HR and managers to be vigilant about potential harassment in the workplace. All employees are responsible for ensuring that the people within the organization are in a protected and safe space.
With the aid of every employee, the likelihood of sexual harassment incidences or even warning signs of harassment being seen, reported, and even prevented greatly increases.
Prevention training is often not enough. Employees must also be equipped with ways to stop the harassment. Hence, everyone should be trained to be active bystanders.
The key points to be covered under training should include how to:
- register a formal harassment complaint as per the organization’s guidelines
- intervene or interrupt incidences or warning signs of harassment
- support those who have been experienced harm under such incidences
- encourage allyship to look out for fellow employees
Not all employees may feel comfortable taking such measures. They could instead be trained to assist in prevention through other ways, such as distracting the individual from behaving inappropriately or reporting the issue to the relevant manager or HR.
Prevention is only effective when each employee plays their role in cultivating a safe work environment. They must be given the training and resources to achieve this. These are important steps providing power to the masses to create a respectful work culture.
6. Seek Support From Influential Employees
Employees are more likely to trust and listen to their peers rather than someone with a traditional authority role such as HR. This means that companies need to focus on having their employees act as social influencers within their workplace to build the ideal culture.
Leaders can seek the help of influential employees to support the discrimination and harassment prevention steps taken in the workplace. These employees can also provide insight on how to improve communication and training sessions to improve their effectiveness.
7. Be Quick and Resolute In Dealing With Issues
A work environment where sexual harassment issues are downplayed or overlooked entirely discourages employees from reporting such incidences. Such an environment will also embolden those who behave inappropriately as they feel they will not be held accountable.
Thus, it is the responsibility of employers to respond to reports of harassment in an appropriate manner. Due processing must be done through a completely objective review and investigation of the case. If the accused is found to be guilty, they must be served with an appropriate consequence.
The employee that reported the incident should be informed about the actions taken. This can help boost the employee’s confidence in the fact that their safety is a priority.
While the extent of how much information can be disclosed depends on the organization’s policies, a general report of the action taken and reiterating the company’s commitment to creating a safe and respectable workplace can be shared.
Using these discrimination and sexual harassment prevention strategies can help your organization build a culture of intolerance towards objectionable behaviors.
A zero-tolerance policy should protect any employee regardless of their gender or position within the company.
These strategies, among others, will help curate a robust sexual harassment complaint and investigation process.
Do you need help with harassment prevention training at your workplace? Reach out to us and request a demo today!