How employers can end workplace harassment

A new survey offers insight into the measures employers should be taking to eradicate unacceptable workplace behaviour

How employers can end workplace harassment
There has been a steady stream of high-profile harassment cases in recent months with much media attention surrounding the issue – so could the increased exposure actually help HR?

According to a survey released this week, almost a third (32 per cent) of HR professionals agree that the increased media attention will make things easier for them in the coming year.

However, in corporations with more than 20,000 employees, that figure dropped to just 18 per cent.

Conducted by the Next Concept Human Resource Association (NCHRA) and employee feedback platform Waggl, the survey collated responses from hundreds of HR professionals across organisations of all sizes.

While some employers think the increased exposure will be beneficial to HR, the vast majority (90 per cent) said the best way to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace is to ensure higher standards for leaders.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace has taken a centre stage in recent months, with new high-profile cases coming to light on a daily basis,” said Kate Benediktsson, head of ignition at Waggl.

“But despite existing laws, penalties and mandated trainings, the issue is still far from being resolved,” she continued. “In order to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace, we need to create a culture of respect with zero tolerance for harassment, ensure that leadership sets an example of ideal workplace behaviours, and offer actionable education across the board.”

NCHRA and Waggle also posed the question; “In light of the fact that sexual harassment in the workplace is still a major issue despite laws, penalties, and mandated training to prevent it, what do you think it will take to get leadership to pay attention and take ownership of the issue? Why do you feel this way?”

Responses were then distilled into a ranked list. Here are the top four responses:
  • “Accountability is key, including termination of employment for high profile leaders. HR can raise issues and demand action all day long but unless the Board or CEO is willing to take disciplinary action up to and including termination, there will be no credibility for HR.”
  • “Leaders have to talk about it with their teams. It’s uncomfortable. People don’t want to talk about it. It’s easier to pretend it’s a problem elsewhere. Leaders need to step up and take personal responsibility to make things better.”
  • “It is more than creating high expectations for leaders, it is including the whole organization in the high expectations. Continuous training, and providing a responsible and accountable way for leaders at all levels to address sexual harassment. HR needs to be able to properly investigate claims and not side with leaders, up to and including using a third party, and even terminating HR that does not properly maintain an unbiased opinion and respectability.”
  •  “Clearly identify the difference between a mistake in judgment and criminal abuse. The difference between sexual harassment that is accidental is due to misreading the level of trust and current emotional state of the relationship. However, it is very clear when sexual harassment is used to control or coerce or attack another person. Often the poor judgement to say something that makes someone feel uncomfortable can be solved via communication whereas criminal level are hard to deal with – people need to understand the difference.”
“From the responses to this pulse, it’s clear that sexual harassment is not a problem that can be solved by HR alone, but HR practitioners can help to address it by approaching it as more than just a compliance issue,” said Greg Morton, CEO of NCHRA.

“Eliminating sexual harassment will require a cultural shift supported by relevant training around respect, communication, and work styles,” he continued. “My prediction is that organizations large and small will place greater focus on this issue in 2018, as they recognize the undetermined financial risk associated. For the sake of business viability and continuity, it will demand their attention.”

Related stories:
Why HR has to have courageous conversations
Could VR reduce workplace harassment?

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