It’s well understood that achieving respect in the workplace is everyone’s job.
It’s also the case that people don’t recognise that the impact of behaviour can be different to their intention.
This is at the heart of why communications and training about a respectful workplace can be challenging. Our people think ‘I’m not sexist, racist or anything-else-ist’ – and so important messages could be deemed irrelevant to their behaviour. And yet, as HR professionals, we know that unintentional harassment can make up a big proportion of all the incidents that occur.
We’ve been thinking about what key messages employers need to communicate to make sure this gets through. Here are our 10 ‘message must-haves’:
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace – so it’s everyone’s job to make sure that happens
As well making it clear that everyone is responsible to act respectfully, make it clear that if something does happen, doing nothing is not an option.
Also, ‘everyone’ includes customers, suppliers and contractors.
The negative effects of harassment can be wide reaching for the person who experienced it, the perpetrator and the organisation
Stories are a great way to really make this hit home – and you can tailor your message based on what’s going to be important to your audience.
It’s the complainant’s genuinely-held view that counts
So if someone thinks, or their mate thinks, or anyone else thinks that it was ‘harmless banter’ – it really doesn’t matter.
Harassment can happen unintentionally
This is actually two points for the price of one:
- Recognise that there can be a mismatch between the intention and the effect of what was said, done, posted or shared.
- If something’s happened that is concerning, acknowledge that it could have been unintentional on the perpetrator’s part.
Both of these are easier said than done. The ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain kicks in when we’re criticised and when we’re hurt – so defensiveness can get in the way of saying ‘that’s not okay’ and ‘I’m sorry’.
Harassment can happen intentionally too
There’s nothing unintentional about a comment that begins “I am not being racist, but…” or ends “that was perfectly okay in my day”, so it’s important to call out deliberate behaviour for what it is.
Humour at work is important, because humour is important to humans
But the humour needs to be inclusive. Humour at the expense of any personal characteristic is unlikely to be inclusive. Take the example of ‘having a senior moment’ – something we explore in our mock employment tribunal events.
People can change their minds
So ‘I know what my team will take’ isn’t the answer.
This is how you deal with it
Equip your team members with ways to say: ‘that’s not okay’ and ‘I am sorry’. Equip them with the more formal channels to follow if that approach doesn’t work or can’t be done. Thirdly, tell them what the organisation will do to manage situations and don’t shy away from the fact that it could be gross misconduct.
No, we’re not telling you what to think
But we are telling you how to behave when you’re ‘at work’. And that means work-related events too.
We’ll all be better off for it
Organisations who get this right are not just better places to work; they’re more diverse in their workforce, more inclusive in their approach and – according to plenty of research – more successful as a result.