New Workplace Harassment Training Challenges (And How to Tackle Them)

Workplace harassment is a decades-old problem that, frustratingly, takes on new forms and new life each year. Harassment and discrimination (including gender, age, disability, religion and racial workplace discrimination) workplace bullying, abusive conduct and sexual harassment aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re still one of the most common forms of employee misconduct. And current events and trends continue to drive new forms of discrimination and harassment at work:

  • Instances of social injustice (like allegations of police brutality) and the struggle for fair treatment can spark heated and often insensitive workplace conversations that damage morale and employee relations and& prompt racial or gender workplace discrimination.
  • Advances and changes in technology—and therefore changes in the way we interact with each other—can lead to cyber harassment.
  • Expanding legal rights for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community can lead to inappropriate office conversations all the way up to threatening and violent actions, as well as sexual preference discrimination.
  • The continuing influx of young workers from colleges and high schools where sexual harassment and assault are part of life.

Added up, these issues (and many, many more) provide plenty of fodder for litigation, agency charges and unhappy employees.

Our Workplace Harassment training course is designed to provide compliance professionals with a powerful tool to prevent workplace harassment. Visit our Online Training Video Gallery to see it for yourself.

Statistics Show Harassment in the Workplace Remains a Major Issue for Employers and Employees

The numbers around workplace harassment abuses are not exactly heartening:

  • According to EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang, who on January 14, 2015 presided over the first U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) commission meeting of her tenure, “Workplace harassment is alleged in approximately 30 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC.” Coined a “persistent problem,” the EEOC is vowing to do better for workers who are subjected to harassment.
  • At the same meeting, Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of the National Women's Law Center, reported that “while one in four women face harassment in the workplace, many are loath to report it.”

Furthermore, while many industries have made laudable strides in addressing workplace harassment, many are lagging behind, including:

  • The tech sector, which has allowed culture/industry/immaturity to be an excuse for a toxic culture and justification for the abuse of female workers.
  • The restaurant industry where according to a study released in October of 2014, virtually no one is untouched by harassment. “Two-thirds of women workers and over half of men workers had experienced some form of sexual harassment from management; nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers; and nearly 80% of women and 55% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from customers.” And even more shocking is how persistent the harassment is—with more than half experiencing it on a weekly basis.
  • In construction, while women make up only 2.6% of construction workers, “a U.S. Department of Labor study reported that 88 percent of women construction workers experienced sexual harassment on the job.”
  • Professional athletes and the organizations that employ them have at times left us speechless as allegations of racially motived hazing and bullying have been allowed to persist.

Why Do We Continue to Be Plagued By Workplace Harassment Violations?

Although high-quality education and prevention efforts can drive change and must continue (lest your organization be left without a legal defense), the battle against workplace harassment will go on. That’s because harassment is fundamentally a human issue.

Related: Tools for Building a Workplace Harassment Prevention Program That Works

It’s not about whether someone followed the right policy or process for submitting an expense report. It’s about how we treat each other as humans.

  • It’s about how we interact and communicate with each other. Do we show respect and treat others with dignity, or do we take liberties with these important fundamental rules?
  • It’s about power dynamics, and what people with power feel they can get away with.
  • It’s about personal boundaries, and what happens when someone crosses that boundary.
  • It’s about how each employee experiences their work environment and their coworkers/business partners.

It’s also important to highlight that harassment knows no boundaries: harassers and victims alike can be any age, gender, race or nationality.

Seven Common Mistakes Business Leaders Make in Preventing Workplace Harassment

You may be asking yourself: are we failing—and will things ever get better? What can you do to minimize workplace discrimination and harassment—and avoid fostering a hostile work environment?

Let’s start off by saying that many organizations have made respectable progress in preventing workplace harassment, discrimination and abusive conduct. Employees are better informed about their rights, they have outlets (such as anonymous hotlines, helplines and websites) for raising concerns, and many employers take allegations of harassment very seriously.

But many employers are still not addressing workplace harassment issues as vigorously as they could and should be. Seven common mistakes and underlying assumptions that get in the way of improving the culture and putting an end to harassment and discrimination include:

  1. Assuming that it’s not an issue in their own workplace, so it’s not given proper attention or resourcing. Underlying assumption: “That kind of thing just doesn’t happen here.”
  2. Failing to address harassment properly (either swiftly enough or using the right level of discipline)—or (overtly or subtly) sending a message to the victim that they are somehow to blame. Underlying assumption: “I’m not so sure this is such a big deal.”
  3. Not recognizing and addressing all forms of abusive workplace conduct, like bullying and general disrespectful behavior. This kind of behavior is often the root cause of many forms of unlawful harassment. Underlying assumption: “People are too sensitive.”
  4. Undertraining employees (and third parties), leaving them unaware of the organization’s expectations, and without knowledge of what they can do to protect themselves. Underlying assumption: “Our employees already know what’s okay and what’s not-it’s common sense.”
  5. Thinking that “check the box” training is good enough. Insulting learners with the same dull content year after year will result in a much greater ability for them to ignore the crucial content we’re trying to convey. Fresh and engaging training content is crucial for effectiveness. Underlying assumption: “I don’t want to spend more money on this—let’s just use what we’ve got. No one will notice or care.”
  6. Leaving managers ill-equipped to receive complaints and deal with them properly—despite the fact that studies have revealed that employees usually go to their own manager first with complaints, and generally only report externally if they do not have confidence that anything will come of their complaint. Underlying assumption: “My managers can just figure things out if a problem comes up. It’s not that difficult.”
  7. Allowing an unhealthy corporate culture to take root and blossom. In this environment, employees are afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation. Instead they stay silent and the issues—and risks—grow exponentially worse. Underlying assumption: “If anybody has a problem, they can deal with it. We’re all adults here, right?”

It’s Time to Ask Yourself: What Am I Doing to Prevent Workplace Harassment?

Harassment is not just a problem in certain industries—and it’s certainly not just an HR issue. Harassment is a corporate culture issue that impacts us all.

Employers need to rethink their approach and commitment to preventing workplace and find a way to wake up their jaded employees. And one of the most important things that employers can do is shake up their workplace harassment training.

Skeptical that you need to take this step? Answer the following self-assessment questions with “true” or “false”:

  • I have deployed a new workplace harassment training course in the last two years.
  • The content in the course I deploy is brand new (just because you bought it less than two years ago does not mean that the content isn’t past its “best if used by” date).
  • There is content in the course that is just for managers and it will help them become better leaders.
  • The scenarios in my course are current and realistic, and will resonate with my employees.
  • The course is so great, even I want to watch it.
  • I am confident that my senior leaders will think the course is a good use of employee time.
  • I am certain that my employees will find this training engaging, informative, and thought-provoking.

If you answered “false” to even one of these questions, it’s time to think hard about what you are doing and whether you need to look for new options.

A New Tool To Deploy: A Fresh, Engaging Workplace Harassment Training Course from NAVEX Global

The risk of employees tuning out crucial workplace harassment training content is exactly why NAVEX Global commits to creating a new Workplace Harassment course every two years.

This year, we’ve completely revamped our course. Working closely with Littler Mendelson, the world’s largest labor and employment law firm and our team of experts, the course is a leap forward in workplace harassment training—an entirely new experience we’re proud to share with you here.

What is your organization doing to tackle workplace harassment in the coming year? Leave your feedback in the comments below: we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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