How does harassment impact workplace culture?

If 2018 could be summed up in one phrase, surely it must be #MeToo?

How does harassment impact workplace culture?

If 2018 could be summed up in one phrase, surely it must be #MeToo? From disgraced media moguls, to ousted CEOs - it’s as if the world suddenly sat up and started taking workplace harassment seriously.

But where does that leave the workplace of 2019? In their eighth article of the series, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ (WSPS) spoke to HRD Canada on the prevalence of bullying in organizations – and what HR should be doing to end it once and for all.

“Harassment, especially in a workplace that does not take complaints or allegations seriously and has no proper measures in place to appropriately respond and investigate, can be incredibly demoralizing to employees,” explained Krista Schmid, Workplace Mental Health consultant at WSPS.

“This in turn leads to high psychological stress which can foster poorer employee health, lower productivity, increase absenteeism and facilitate a high turnover - to name a few. On an individual basis, harassment at work creates a sense of low self-esteem in workers - as well as isolation, insomnia, headaches and a loss of confidence.”

Recent reports have found that harassment increases an organization’s risk of psychological injury and illness. These include, but are not limited to, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, and physical violence.

“If there’s no measures in place to report instances of harassment, and employees don’t feel comfortable coming forward to their manager, then trust in the employer can be damaged, if not broken, in the eyes of the employee,” added Krista.

The culture of silence that organizations inadvertently fostered decades ago has been somewhat shattered through the good work of dedicated organizations such as WSPS. Bearing this in mind, we asked Krista how have employers’ responsibilities have changed since #MeToo.

“Employers have both moral and legal obligations to prevent incidents of sexual harassment from occurring and to adequately respond to allegations of workplace sexual harassment,” she prefaced.

“Failure to do so may permanently harm and employer’s reputation. I believe that the #MeToo movement reinvigorated the discussion around sexual harassment and has helped to make inroads into putting pressure, both societally and legally, on organizations to really take this seriously and close their eyes to it.

“It has empowered employees to come forward – as well as punishing perpetrators found guilty. While policies and procedures existed in the past, it wasn’t always as much as a priority as it is since #MeToo movement. In this #MeToo era, the accusers are usually believed immediately which is a huge attitudinal shift from the past. And while this helps to create a safe space for employees to come forward, employers need to ensure they fully investigate any accusations as there’s been instances where cases have gone too much in the opposite direction.”

As victims become increasingly more confident in bringing their accusations to light, HR needs to start considering what the future of harassment prevention in the workplace looks like. It’s no longer enough to act curatively – employers must be proactive in their approach to stamping out office bullies.

“The future of harassment prevention in workplaces will need to be a comprehensive approach to creating and maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace in which there is zero tolerance for incivility and disrespect,” added Krista.

“The future should be a culture of inclusion and free of harassment where the workplace is ‘humanized’. Outdated authoritarian management practices will hopefully be eliminated and managers can lead and inspire their employees in a careful and mindful manner.”

To find out more about how to deal with harassment in the workplace, make sure you visit WSPS and take advantage of their excellent resources.

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