Things like harassment and discrimination at the workplace have been a hot topic lately, but that hasn't always been the case.
Lots of ugly behavior and microaggressions were par the course for many people in the workforce, and women were told for decades to simply grin and bear it when it came to incidents of sexual harassment. It really wasn’t until Anita Hill testified in the Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas that the term “sexual harassment” even entered the national consciousness.
Nowadays, most places of employment are concerned with trying to educate their management and staff on different ways of preventing racial and sexual discrimination, sometimes with mixed results. That being said, some of these efforts are rather effective, provided that they are implemented properly. The following are a few useful tips to help prevent harassment at your place of work.
Healthy Workplace Culture
Fostering a healthy workplace culture is really the basis upon which a great place to work is built. It’s also the best way to set up clear preventive measures against bad behavior. If the core values of an organization are respect and empathy, then that will be returned in equal measure by the ways in which everyone behaves.
Also, concepts like effective and open communication, genuine attempts at diversity, and a culture of inclusion will help manage unconscious bias. Furthermore, it can help make conflicts a bit easier to resolve since people will be ready to acknowledge that there are, in fact, actual issues.
Usually, in unhealthy and dysfunctional workplaces, people are avoidant and try to obfuscate hurt feelings by other things, and refuse to take responsibility for hurting others. This won’t really be commonplace in a healthy office.
It’s important that upper management discusses from the onset precisely what they expect from themselves as well as all employees. Large companies typically send out memos from the CEOs indicating precisely what they expect from others, and what they deem to be a “respectful workplace.”
Furthermore, they would have to outline a clear sexual harassment training policy, indicating that misconduct and harmful behaviors aren’t allowed. Some people tend to think of these expectations as just words, but their power shouldn’t be underestimated.
Setting expectations from the top is a very powerful statement, and it means that the people in charge are willing to hold themselves accountable – not just their employees. It sends a message loud and clear that hypocrisy isn’t allowed in the organization, and that people should take notice.
Besides setting clear expectations, you should set up foolproof policies and procedures for handling complaints and initiating investigations. Employees don’t feel safe without them, and rightfully so. The human resources department shouldn’t make life difficult for people who need to come forward with complaints.
People usually have a hard time reporting discriminatory behavior at work because they fear retaliation, or that the HR office will try to buy their silence especially when it comes to protecting powerful employees within the company. The HR department should focus on creating a mechanism that advocates for all their employees fairly, and without bias.
They need to take the time to understand each person’s perspective, while also allowing them to feel safe enough to bring up their concerns without feeling as though they will be diminished or patronized in any way.
An efficient and unbiased investigation that offers a fair resolution efficiently and quickly will also go a long way in ensuring that staff feel safe and appreciated by the organization.
As companies try to get solid anti-discriminatory and harassment policies set up, they should seek legal counsel to ensure that they are in accordance with any set laws. Your first point of contact is the company’s attorney who can offer feedback on any written policy that may already be on the books.
It’s smart to ask them to review the standards you’ve already put in place to ensure that they are complete, and in accordance with federal, state, and local employment laws. If you need further legal counsel, then it would also be a good idea to contact your local regional standpoint for the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for technical guidance on any anti-harassment policy the organization endeavors to set up. The EEOC helps to enforce elements of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was established to prohibit discriminatory employment practices.
In-depth training should be mandatory at the workplace, and it is often the only way to ensure that employees are well aware of the different boundaries and how to navigate tough situations or conversations with one another. The human resources department needs to be involved with setting up regular training sessions that cover a wide variety of topics, with which every employee needs to be familiar from the get-go.
A hostile work environment impinges upon what should be the company’s core values and integrity. It’s also bad for productivity, employee retention, and the general sustainability of the organization. Sharing resources and establishing a healthy environment that honors and respects its employees is integral to the survival of any organization, regardless of its focus.