Workplace harassment is not a new phenomenon. However, its place in the spotlight over the last several years and in the wake of the #metoo movement has led employers to re-examine their harassment policies and training efforts. An EEOC task force concluded in a 2016 report that in most cases, anti-harassment training isn’t working. Why? Most harassment training focuses on technical compliance with the law, claim prevention and defense tactics, using outlandish or extreme examples that are not relatable and can be abstract, boring and irrelevant to employees. Current research indicates that employers’ focus is better placed on prevention and creating a culture of mutual respect and tolerance that is conducive to disclosure of inappropriate behaviors.
To create a culture of respect, leadership must be invested in the training. When the people at the top of an organization are held to the highest standards and show a dedication and commitment to company culture, employees take note and follow suit for a trickle-down effect. Companies should consider having a top employee initiate the conversation about mandatory harassment training. A short video or in-person message from the CEO or other influential leader can be very effective. Leadership should explain why the training is occurring, avoiding a focus on compliance with the law but rather concentrating on the company’s core values. The message should be clear that reporting harassment is encouraged and that allegations will be taken seriously and retaliation not tolerated. To encourage leadership buy-in to company culture, employers may consider evaluating high level employees on their commitment to inclusion and respect and the way they treat their co-workers and subordinates.
Effective “civility training” educates employees on how to communicate respectfully in person and via email, discuss differences related to diversity and cultural characteristics, praise others and give and receive constructive feedback, listen to complaints, resolve conflicts and be an effective supervisor. Creating a culture of respect requires employers to provide multiple avenues for reporting violations as not all employees are comfortable reporting to a supervisor. Employers should also empower bystanders to speak up and give managers tools to report disruptive behavior. The actual trainings should be broken up into manageable chunks, enabling employees to stay engaged, and should focus on repetition of key messages about respectful behavior.
Finally, effective training should be tailored to the needs of your unique organization. Although third-party courses on harassment are plentiful and inexpensive, they may be irrelevant to the needs of your company, and as a result, employees may dismiss the training as unrealistic and unhelpful. If you are interested in harassment training for your organization, please feel free to contact us.