This blog isn’t about harassment training and a long list of things that training should cover. It’s about the importance of talking to your employees about it and making sure your company culture doesn’t support it.
It’s also important to recognize that harassment is much more than sexual harassment. It also includes hostile work environments, bullying, and other types of harassment.
I walked into an organization one time that clearly didn’t talk about harassment and had never done harassment training of any kind. Just walking down the hall made that clear, from the way people talked to each other to the jokes that were made. I approached the owner and recommended we start with some harassment training. And his response was, “If we do a training, then we’re going to shed a light on what harassment is and maybe open ourselves up to a lawsuit.”
The worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. In doing so, you’re creating a culture that supports harassment. Ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away. It keeps gaining momentum and becomes a bigger and bigger issue. And then it explodes.
How many times have we seen news stories about major corporations where one story of harassment surfaced, and then suddenly there are 20 more stories to illustrate the depth of the problem? When it boils over to that point, companies can start to implode. CEOs get fired (or resign), as happened when Uber’s culture of harassment and discrimination became apparent. That type of culture can sink a small business, and it leaves a pretty significant black mark on the businesses that do survive.
I don’t believe any company starts out with a goal to create a culture of harassment. That said, if leaders refuse to admit it’s real and avoid talking about, it can easily infiltrate your culture and became a major issue over time. If you ignore employee feedback about issues, either in the moment or through exit interviews, you’re only hurting yourself and your business.
What’s the better way to handle it? Create a culture of awareness. From the very beginning, you should educate employees on what harassment is and what it looks like.
When done effectively, employees hold each other accountable for appropriate behavior as a first step to creating the right company culture. Additionally, you’ve taken the steps to provide clear paths for reporting the behavior and employees know that those reports will be taken seriously.
We recommend the rule of three when it comes to reporting: every company should have at least three avenues for employees to tell their company what they witnessed. That could mean their direct supervisor, any other supervisor, and human resources. Or it could mean direct supervisor, HR, and company owner in a small business.
Now, you may be tempted to think, “Well, I work in an industry where it’s just part of the job, so there’s nothing we can really do.” Think again.
Every employee has the right to a safe place to work that’s free of harassment and discrimination. Every employee, regardless of industry. Yes, there are some work environments where it takes more effort to create the proper culture, but it can be done.
It’s the responsibility of the owners and supervisors to create the right environment and ensure all employees understand the expectations for their behavior at work. Your company policies and handbook are critical tools in setting those expectations, as well as how you deal with situations when they occur.
Don’t stick your head in the sand. Be proactive about creating a company culture that refuses to tolerate harassment of any kind.
If you need help doing so, contact WhyHR today to discuss your needs.