Prevent Workplace Harassment With This 3-Pronged Strategy

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Millions of employees at all levels of companies and organizations, large and small, are required to take training to prevent workplace harassment. The training, often conducted annually, is designed to protect companies from liability and foster a more postiive work environment. But does it work?

Although proving that employees have completed training might satisfy legal obligations, executives increasingly understand that the goal isn’t the training itself—it’s changing behavior to create a safe, respectful and, ultimately, more productive corporate culture. After all, more diverse workplaces are more innovative, according to Forbes Insights—a key ingredient to a successful business in any competitive industry.

A three-pronged strategy can boost workplace harassment prevention efforts. Fortunately, tools are available—possibly within your existing LMS—to implement these steps.

1. Training that works

A comprehensive study of harassment training published by the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law found that the most effective training used authentic examples. These narratives were often shared by managers who had handled harassment incidents or workers who had experienced harassment.

In manager training, scenarios that give learners opportunities to think about how they’d respond are also extremely effective, especially when the learners can discuss their responses with peers or hear from managers who have handled similar situations.

Not all objectionable behavior crosses the legal line into harassment—and not all training materials make that clear. Pairing realistic scenarios with training that emphasizes what discrimination is and how to avoid it increases learners’ awareness of problematic behaviors and encourages behavioral change before harassment occurs.

Adding bystander training can drive behavioral change at all levels. Consider a values-based approach to reducing conflict and addressing harassing behavior by empowering employees to speak up, whether to peers or to managers.

2. Post-training reinforcement

Eliminating workplace harassment is also a function of company culture. Identifying a safe, respectful work environment as a key business goal is an important initial step. Leaders at all levels can align learning with this goal by implementing role-play exercises that target harassing behaviors in compliance training, direct reports’ learning paths and leadership curricula.

Sometimes it takes a powerful statement to change culture or public perception: When Starbucks closed its U.S. stores to provide antibias training to 175,000 employees, as reported in The New York Times, people noticed. Even before seeing the content of the training, employees—and the public—received a clear message that bias wouldn’t be tolerated.

Corporate leaders can bolster antiharassment training efforts with content on leadership and soft skills, ensuring that employees gain and retain the ability to speak up when they see problematic behaviors.

3. Reporting and addressing incidents

Establishing and publicizing antiharassment policies, as well as letting all employees know how to report violations, is the final piece of this strategy. Introducing policies and procedure during onboarding and regularly reviewing them, perhaps using microlearning or job aids, increases employee awareness. The LMS is a natural place to house both ongoing refresher training and a user-friendly reporting mechanism, making it easy for employees to speak up when they experience workplace harassment or witness violations.

Managers should receive additional training on handling reports. This training might emphasize keeping reports confidential, ensuring that reporters do not face retaliation and the importance of investigating allegations thoroughly before meting out a penalty. Furthermore, managers and senior leaders need clear remediation guidelines for mild or offensive actions, as well as for serious harassment and for repeat offenders.

Everyone deserves a safe work environment, supported by both policy and corporate culture. Training alone cannot eliminate workplace harassment, but this three-pronged strategy can start your organization on the path toward greater respect and less conflict for all employees.