By John Arendes
A recent EEOC Select Task Force on the study of Harassment in the Workplace is an extensive look inside what are often tawdry, offensive, unfair and hurtful work environments. It serves many purposes, one of which reminds us that the recent rash of very public situations of harassment are neither unique nor confined to ‘men of power’; workplace harassment is, in fact, endemic, pervasive and nothing new.
Combatting this virulent and toxic behavior presents a number of challenges and how best to do this is debated. Some people claim training to be ineffective and will point to organizations where training was in place, and yet employees were still harassed.
The truth is, it is not enough to have training. Training is a function of a larger, more comprehensive approach and to really tackle harassment you need to look at the entire puzzle and not just one piece.
Packed with seminal insights and recommendations, this EEOC report delivers an important message – to confront this issue, you must start by looking at the culture that pervades your workplace. That there is leadership and a commitment to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace in which harassment is simply not acceptable is paramount, and that to achieve this an organization must have systems in place to ensure that all employees are held accountable for this expectation.
Fundamentally together leadership, accountability and shared beliefs and values define an organization’s culture, and it is this that will determine more than anything the type of work experience offered.
This begs the question – how do you make this happen?
Again the EEOC offers some sound advice. Part of the solution is leadership taking a highly visible role and establishing clearly for all to understand what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.
The other part is perhaps more in my area, and that is, companies must “have effective policies and procedures and must conduct effective trainings on those policies and procedures. Anti-harassment policies must be communicated and adhered to, and reporting systems must be implemented consistently, safely, and in a timely fashion. Trainings must ensure that employees are aware of, and understand, the employer’s policy and reporting systems. Such systems must be periodically tested to ensure that they are effective.”
Both the EEOC and I believe that “Employers who care deeply about stopping harassment use training as a mechanism to do so.” In some states it is mandated, and the existence of training programs does work to an organization’s advantage should they face criminal/legal charges. I’m thinking specifically of the Faragher-Ellerth defense where if an employer can prove that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior; and that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise, they can avoid liability for alleged unlawful harassment.
However, is training effective?
While the research is limited and not without some statistical issues, what we do know is that the EEOC does “conclude that training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort.” Again though training will only be effective if it is part of a holistic effort and includes the other elements of leadership and accountability discussed earlier.
However, and we have repeatedly said this in other posts, you cannot address this training with a check-the-box, one-size-fits-all mentality. This training must
- Be designed to work with the realities of different workplaces
- Offered in the language of the employees – where possible
- Offered in a way as to adapt to different learning styles
- Include where possible realistic examples and scenarios
- Include content specifically for managers and supervisors and how best they can react when a report comes to them first.
- Be regularly offered and evaluated
Companies typically do want to make their employees feel safe, feel confident that should an issue arise they would be taken seriously and that ultimately the company is looking after them. The problem does not lie in the intent, it is in the execution, and it is this that is the bigger problem.
John Arendes is the VP & GM of Global Compliance Solutions at Skillsoft.