Let’s skip the A to Zs. We all know that workplace harassment is wrong. And that it damages individuals and the overall health of an organization.
But declaring opposition to harassment isn’t enough. Neither is it enough to implement corrective measures post-incident. The only solution (and the real challenge) is to go beyond the mandatory regulations. And focus, instead, on workplace harassment prevention.
We’re not pointing fingers, here. Fostering respect, understanding, and inclusivity within your organization is easier said than done. And it won’t happen overnight.
A proactive mindset and a willingness to dig deeper are good starting points. But there are also some actionable steps you can follow to create a workplace where harassment isn’t just addressed, but prevented.
Workplace harassment: Stories, facts, and numbers
Workplace harassment is pervasive. It can manifest in various ways and is often disguised in subtle forms. But it always leaves victims feeling powerless. So, what does workplace harassment look like? And how prevalent is it?
Story 1: Sexual harassment in the office
Alexandra had been in her new job for only a few weeks. Unfortunately, she started noticing an unsettling change in her colleague’s behavior. Mark, a senior team member, began making inappropriate comments about her appearance. He also started leaving suggestive notes on her desk. At first, she tried to brush it off, thinking it might be a misguided humor attempt.
But the situation escalated. Mark began making unwelcome advances, crossing the boundaries of professionalism. Alexandra felt very uncomfortable and distressed. She didn’t know how to approach the issue. She feared the potential for further, worse harassment if it wasn’t addressed promptly. And was worried about the impact it was having on her wellbeing.
Story 2: Cyberbullying at the tech firm
Jake, a talented software developer, had always been passionate about his work at a cutting-edge tech firm. But as he gained recognition for his achievements, jealousy brewed among some colleagues. Behind Jake’s back, a group of coworkers started cyberbullying him. Using an internal chat platform, they made demeaning comments about his work and spread false rumors about his personal life.
The online harassment intensified, affecting Jake’s mental health and job performance. Feeling isolated and demoralized, Jake hesitated to discuss his struggles with anyone.
Types of workplace harassment
There’s not just one type of harassment or one surefire way to fight it. Here are some of the most common and impactful forms of workplace harassment.
- Sexual harassment: Explicit or implicit requests for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits. Or unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or behavior that creates an uncomfortable, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Discriminatory harassment: Treating people unfairly or unfavorably due to their race, gender, age, religion, or other protected characteristics. Or based on disability (disability harassment), where people make derogatory comments, mock, or exclude others from opportunities.
- Bullying: Persistent, aggressive behavior intended to intimidate, degrade, or humiliate a person. It often involves a power imbalance between the bully and the victim. Harassment might also be carried out through electronic communication (emails, social media, chats), and it’s known as cyberbullying.
- Verbal harassment: Inappropriate comments, slurs, or offensive language that creates a hostile workplace.
- Psychological/emotional harassment: Actions that cause distress, anxiety, or fear. For example, constant criticism, humiliation, or giving someone the silent treatment.
Numbers and facts
The “Toxic work culture in the tech industry” research by TalentLMS and Culture Amp demonstrates that:
- 42% of respondents claim that managers in tech companies with toxic work cultures frequently show inconsiderate and disrespectful behavior towards employees
- 40% of employees state that bullying and harassment are prevalent and frequent in the tech workplace
- 43% say discrimination and unfair treatment due to employees’ age occurs frequently; 42% say race is the most frequent reason; and 41% say it’s based on gender
- 44% of surveyed employees mentioned the undeserved silencing of employees—cutting them out of key meetings and decisions
Meanwhile, “The state of employee sexual harassment training” survey by TalentLMS and The Purple Campaign shows that:
- 92% of women consider unwanted physical contact as a form of sexual harassment. However, only 78% of men said the same
- 40% of men reported experiencing online sexual harassment much more frequently than women (17%)
- 29% of employees have witnessed an incident of workplace sexual harassment but didn’t take action
- Only 27% reported that management takes an individualized approach to addressing each reported incident
10 ways to succeed in workplace harassment prevention
The key for effective workplace harassment prevention is investing in a multifaceted and dynamic approach. This involves ongoing anti-harassment and sexual harassment training, clear policies, responsive processes, and leadership commitment. By combining these elements, organizations can cultivate a culture that prevents harassment and promotes a positive and inclusive workplace.
Let’s see how.
1. Respect and inclusion training
Tailor training programs on your LMS to address the specific needs and challenges of your organization. Generic training may not be as effective as content tailored to your company’s culture and industry. Also, harassment prevention training should not be a one-time event.
Provide regular, ongoing training to reinforce positive behaviors and update employees on any policy changes. To achieve that, use interactive workshops and group activities to encourage open discussions. This helps create a safe space for people to share experiences and learn from each other.
2. Management training
Include real-life case studies in management training to boost understanding of complex situations. Discussing these scenarios allows managers to develop the skills needed to handle similar situations in the workplace. Another great idea to engage managers is to use role-playing activities. This helps them practice responding to harassment complaints and build confidence in addressing sensitive issues.
Don’t forget to provide ongoing feedback to managers on their performance in handling employee relations. Identify areas for improvement and reinforce positive behaviors.
3. Anti-harassment policies
Ensure that anti-harassment policies are easily accessible to all employees. Add such policies to employee handbooks, post them in common areas, and provide digital access. At the same time, regularly review and update policies to align with evolving legal standards and societal expectations. This helps your organization remain proactive in workplace harassment prevention.
Conduct anti-harassment training on your LMS specifically focused on understanding and adhering to your organization’s anti-harassment policies. That way, employees will be aware of both the expectations and the consequences. One of the most common best practices is to include anti-harassment training in your compliance training program.
4. Zero-tolerance approach
A zero-tolerance policy against harassment strictly forbids any wrong behavior, enforcing immediate consequences to maintain a safe and respectful work environment.
Don’t solely focus on punitive measures. Explain your zero-tolerance training policy. Provide opportunities for employees to learn from their mistakes and contribute to a culture of continuous improvement. Simultaneously, clearly communicate the consequences of harassment at the workplace to all employees. This transparency sets expectations and serves as a deterrent.
5. Signs of harassment awareness
Interactive training methods help employees recognize signs of harassment at work. These methods boost engagement and include video scenarios, quizzes, and group discussions.
Some people might be reluctant to come forward due to fear of retaliation. An anonymous reporting system may encourage hesitant employees to address signs or incidents of harassment. Don’t forget to stress the confidentiality of such reporting channels.
Periodic refresher courses on recognizing and reporting harassment may also come in handy. They help reinforce the importance of remaining vigilant by reporting any observed or experienced misconduct.
6. Communication channels
Implement various reporting channels. For example, online platforms, dedicated hotlines, or in-person reporting options. This way, you can cater to different preferences and comfort levels of employees. Remember to establish clear protocols for handling reported incidents. And communicate the steps that will be taken, the expected timelines, and the confidentiality measures.
To foster a culture of trust, it’s crucial to reassure employees that they can report harassment without fear. Highlight success stories where individuals were supported and protected after reporting an incident.
7. Responsive investigation process
Make sure that all investigations are conducted promptly. Delays contribute to a perception of organizational indifference and might hurt trust. In complex situations, consider involving external experts in the investigation process. This enhances objectivity and shows commitment to a fair resolution.
Establish a feedback loop to update involved parties on the progress of the investigation. Transparency helps build confidence in the process.
8. Regular audits and assessments
Conduct regular feedback sessions with employees to gather insights on the workplace environment. Use this information to identify potential issues and proactively address concerns. And adapt policies and practices based on this feedback. Flexibility ensures that the organization remains responsive to changing dynamics within the workplace.
A great idea is to compare your company’s anti-harassment efforts with industry benchmarks and best practices. This external perspective provides valuable insights for improvement.
9. Diversity and inclusion initiatives
Reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment process by ensuring diversity when hiring. This promotes a more inclusive work environment from the start. And develop leadership programs that focus on inclusive leadership skills. Doing this fosters a sense of belonging among team members and actively promotes diversity within leadership roles.
To complement these initiatives, consider creating employee resource groups. Use these to celebrate different backgrounds and foster a sense of community and support for underrepresented employees.
10. Leadership demonstration
Leaders should actively and visibly support anti-harassment initiatives. With both words and actions. This includes attending training sessions, actively participating in diversity events, and publicly addressing the importance of a respectful workplace.
Hold leaders accountable for promoting a harassment-free environment. Evaluate leadership based on their commitment to diversity and inclusion in performance assessments.
Workplace harassment prevention: Building the foundation for respect and inclusion
Your employees may have experienced harassment before. Or heard stories from friends and family. To make them feel safe, it’s not enough just to talk the talk. To show dedication against harassment calls for bold actions.
These bold anti-harassment moves aren’t just for show. They’re the foundation of a workplace where people can trust and respect each other. A workplace where everyone feels secure. And a workplace where employees feel confident to speak up, without worrying about the consequences.
So, be bold. And focus on workplace harassment prevention. Before it starts.