Four Ideas (in Addition to Training) That You Can Use to Reduce Sexual Harassment Incidents in the Workplace
As you know, sexual harassment claims and actions can be a very serious issue that can cause problems for you and your organization, ranging from lawsuits and monetary damages to reduced employee morale.
The first and most important step to reduce the possibility of sexual harassment incidents in your organization is training. In fact, it is absolutely critical for you to conduct sexual harassment training in the workplace regularly to ensure that every employee understands what sexual harassment is and that your organization takes this issue seriously.
But, I also think that there are several other things that you can do to help create an environment where sexual harassment claims are less likely. Here are four ideas:
Build Respect: At its core, sexual harassment shows profound disrespect of a work colleague. That's why a training program that builds respect in the workplace can also reduce sexual harassment. This kind of training also helps with a variety of issues that range from diversity to bullying, and even to building teams successfully.
Keep the Organization Focused on the Mission: Offices can be swept up with issues ranging from disrespect to harassment to gossip. One way to reduce these issues is to keep the organization focused on your mission. That doesn't mean that social interaction shouldn't happen, but when the conversation turns negative and personal, then you can shift it back to the work at hand. That sends a signal that disrespect and gossip won't be tolerated.
Point Out Bad Behavior: When you see someone acting disrespectfully, then you need to let the person know that his or her behavior is inappropriate. Often, it is best for you to follow up with the offender in person. When you follow up, you should be specific: mention what they said or did. Explain why their comment or action was not appropriate. Be specific, and focus on the content of their comments and why their comments were inconsistent with your organization's policies. Then, if possible, see if you can catch them doing something right - and comment and compliment them on that as well.
Focus on Professionalism. I remember a colleague asking me this question, "Would you write (or say) that if you knew it were going to be printed in the New York Times?" I think this is a good question for every employee. If your behavior were on CNN or in print in the newspaper, would you do it? If the answer is no, then don't do it. Professionalism is key to creating a workplace that is free of harassment. Professionalism doesn't mean you can't have fun. It is appropriate to celebrate when you've reached a goal or a colleague is celebrating a birthday. But professionalism implies that people think before they act; and that action can have consequences.
Sexual Harassment, like other issues of bullying and disrespect can be debilitating to an organization. Your associates become discouraged and unhappy, and their productivity will drop. In addition, good people may become so discouraged that they will leave your organization. That's one of the biggest reasons why it's important to train on these issues.