Does Anti-Harassment Training Work?

December 12, 2019 | Reskill Your Workforce | 4 min read
Does Anti- Harassment Training Work?

Readers familiar with my blog posts will know my answer is a resounding “absolutely.” However, and I can’t say this loud or often enough, there are caveats. Anti-harassment training fails when it is not designed and delivered to affect change. It fails when it is approached as a check the box exercise, and no real thought or strategy is invested in seeing it as anything beyond a mandatory task. It fails when leadership is not fully supportive and committed.

That training does work even done a certain way is not just my opinion. After studying the existing training landscape here are some critical insights from the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study on Harassment in the Workplace

  • Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool - it's been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.
  • Effective training can reduce workplace harassment and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive.
  • However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum - it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top.
  • Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and different cohorts of employees

Why anti-harassment training fails

In Sexual Harassment Training: Myths and Reality, Neal Goodman states:

The focus on avoiding legal liability results in hundreds of highly ineffective solutions. Many organizations turn to the least expensive “solution” with poorly acted videos demonstrating blatant and unrealistic scenarios that turn the training into a joke. Other online training is nothing more than a PowerPoint with a voice-over. Employees viewing these videos are getting a clear message that they must do this for compliance, which sends a message that the company really is not committed to doing anything beyond the minimum. Thus, the training results in more cynicism.

What type of training are organizations currently offering?

According to a survey by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), here’s what the current compliance training landscape looks like:

  • Nine in 10 participants report that their organization had a formal, written sexual harassment policy
  • 7% of organizations offer sexual harassment prevention training
  • The average amount of time an employee spends in sexual harassment prevention training is just two hours per year.

What sexual harassment training does work?

Amalgam Insights, a leading research and advisory firm, recently completed its report on Why Skillsoft’s Workplace Harassment Prevention Training Solution Primes Behavior Change: A Learning Science Evaluation. It is a comprehensive review of the design and delivery of Skillsoft’s workplace harassment prevention training.

Given all the hard work and thought that we put into our training, it is such a pleasure to hear that we are doing it right. As the report says, Skillsoft embraces learning science--the marriage of psychology and neuroscience—and develops training that is grounded in and guided by learning science research.

Learning science teaches us that there are two critical components needed for training to succeed: the training content must be compelling and offered in a way that engages the brain.

Skillsoft delivers on both fronts.

Again, from the report, – Skillsoft’s training offers real-world scenarios and audience involvement in which characters sometimes break the fourth wall to reinforce learning. The content is a broad mix of scenario-based workplace interactions, expert commentary, a facilitator who guides the learner, as well as objective tests and exercises. Courses present the scenario-based video learning content, followed by scenario-based exercises that challenge the learner’s understanding of their responsibilities and supplements both with periodic knowledge checks to validate the learning.

I’ll leave the final words to Todd Maddox, the author of the report and Learning Scientist/Research Fellow at Amalgam Insights. He focuses on the Talent Management and Learning & Development sectors and the challenge of leveraging talent and learning science—the marriage of psychology and brain science—to provide customers with optimized talent management and learning and development solutions.

"This “walk a mile in my shoes” experience speeds initial learning, increases long-term retention, and primes the learner for meaningful behavior change. Although this analyst has not seen every harassment prevention training program in existence, he has seen dozens, and Skillsoft’s Workplace Harassment Prevention solution is exceptional."
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Norm Ford is VP of Operations for Compliance Solutions at Skillsoft.