Harassment at work is an issue that occupied the majority of newspaper headlines throughout 2017. A BBC survey released shocking findings – that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace. It was a year not to be forgotten and a year which employers and learning and development teams can take plenty of learnings and actions from.
It’s time for employers to sit up and ask questions.
The understanding that ‘harassment at work can happen unintentionally’ is nothing new to HR or learning and development, and it could be tempting to think ‘that sort of thing’ won’t be happening in MY office, but won’t it? As employers and HR teams begin to design their training programmes for 2018, we think sexual harassment at work training should be up there at the top of your list.
Vista’s Head of Learning, Vicky Roberts has put together an essential five-point plan of the topics to cover in your harassment at work training:
1. Recognise ‘banter’ as a dangerous phrase
Banter might seem like a harmless buzzword – but this phrase can mask serious and damaging consequences for the recipient. Organisations need to consider the existence of all types behaviours that can cause offence. This can range from deliberate acts designed to humiliate; to the misuse of power or authority; to an intention to do the opposite of offend – to amuse.
2. Address all points on the spectrum from deliberate to unintentional behaviour
Recognise that a misuse of power, authority or a sense of superiority might not be a deliberate decision on the part of the author. Consider the behaviours that can arise in a male, or female, dominated team for example.
3. Give your employees techniques to understand the nature of humour and the ways in which it can become misplaced in a work context
Highlight the fact that what is acceptable to one person may not be to another, and what is acceptable to the same person one week, can change the next.
4. Develop employees in their ability to say – ‘that’s not okay’.
Through the right training approach employers can support employees who have been affected by harassment with techniques to voice their discomfort confidently, constructively and ‘in the moment’.
5. Train employees to receive and accept feedback that ‘that’s not okay’.
Effective training can enable the author of the inadvertent behaviour to apologise and recognise that their colleague is entitled to view the attempt at humour as ill-judged.
If you cover all these topics, a genuine empowerment arises for employees to ‘call-out’ harassment in the workplace. If employees know their feedback will be listened to and dealt with, their confidence to speak out when issues arise will come naturally. It’s a dangerous game when employees feel the opposite and suppress their worries for fear of having a ‘mark’ against their name.
It’s a conversation which Vista have had with many blue-chip organisations, and its always a challenge for us as a supplier, our client as the employer and for all the other stakeholders involved.
But, acting proactively by conducting effective training for all employees as a matter of routine, will not only help organisations to prevent issues remaining unresolved; but support them in taking a huge step towards achieving a positive and inclusive workplace culture that supports business growth.