For decades, companies have been working to protect themselves from liability by offering harassment prevention training in the workplace. Multiple states now mandate training on the topic. Many even spell out what must be covered, who must receive the training, and how long the training should be. But if your goal is simply to be in compliance with the legal requirements, you may be missing the point.
To create behavioral change at a cultural level, harassment prevention training has to be delivered in a variety of ways. Learners need to hear and see not only what is and is not acceptable, but answer questions and make decisions about what they should do. A well-planned and executed harassment prevention program creates an inclusive workplace where everyone not only feels welcome, but is able to be their most productive, most engaged self.
Many currently available harassment awareness programs are brief and leave the employee with little to think about beyond contact information for HR. True harassment prevention requires a broader cultural shift to have a lasting impact on the workplace. Effective training needs to emphasize that it’s the responsibility of all employees to take an active role in not only preventing harassment in all its forms, but in creating a respectful workplace.
It’s your company’s job to make sure every team member understands that maintaining a respectful workplace is their responsibility. It’s more than a legal issue to be avoided; it’s about feeling empowered to take action when they are confronted with bad behavior at any level. Effective training programs work when every employee feels invested in promoting a respectful workplace. But how do you do this? And why haven’t past programs been able to make it happen?
If your harassment prevention training is led by members of your HR team in a small group or “town hall” setting, you may already be setting your efforts up for failure. When employees don’t feel safe within that space, they can easily shut down and fail to internalize the information being provided. If there’s a perception that HR exists to protect the rights of the company over individual employees, then the training will be viewed as self-serving and will never succeed in creating behavioral change.
To get around this perception, some companies choose to bring in live trainers to teach harassment prevention. This sort of environment provides a neutral third party, which can add value – but the training can also be “dismissed” for the same reason if company representatives don’t seem to be actively endorsing it.
Purchasing harassment prevention training videos can be an excellent option, blending the endorsement of the company with the “expert” knowledge of a third party. But if the legal requirements for harassment training change in the states in which your company operates, you’ll need updates to those videos, quickly.
Today, interactive e-learning can provide consistent, relevant messaging that can boost engagement, reinforcing the needs of adult learners
With a diverse workforce, many companies today find it increasingly difficult to create memorable and actionable training programs for employees and managers. Creating two entirely separate programs – one for line employees and one for supervisors – is costly and time-consuming.
Some states mandate additional training for leaders and knowing what to teach each group can be difficult. Many companies choose to adopt a “one size fits all” approach and use the same content regardless of the audience, but training for supervisors, such as how to address, report or investigate a harassment claim can be inappropriate for frontline staff.
The first step in creating effective harassment prevention training for today’s workforce is recognizing that your supervisors and leaders need a targeted curriculum that addresses the specific challenges they may encounter. Generic content that merely teaches the legal aspects of harassment is not going to engage that audience or teach them actionable skills that empower them.
Different states in which you operate may have specific requirements regarding the content you must provide. For example, in California, companies must also address workplace bullying (Abusive Conduct). Make sure your employee curriculum touches on each of these requirements, and make them engaging and interactive. Try role-playing scenarios, depicting common office interactions. Make sure your both employees and leaders have an opportunity to practice the skills they learn, as reinforcement of the concepts happens not only when they see something – but when they DO something.
Remember that it’s not just about victims and perpetrators. Your company must empower bystanders and victims of third-party harassment to understand even nuanced situations and take the right action. Creating effective harassment prevention training today isn’t just about staying within the letter of the law – it’s about protecting every employee and giving them the environment they need to be productive and meet the company’s goals.
Putting together a harassment prevention training program requires a delicate balance. Employees must be made aware of the law and their responsibilities in the workplace. In the past, some have argued that these programs emphasized employment law so heavily that they taught people how to “get away with” harassing behavior and not get fired. Some studies have even shown that the wrong training can make harassment issues worse.
The tone and language of your training must include tolerance and respect for all coworkers, regardless of any protected class. Your harassment prevention will need to acknowledge that harassment occurs despite everyone’s best efforts and that your company is committed to developing processes to address issues.
Above all else, your harassment prevention program must openly demonstrate what all types of harassment look like and what a hostile working environment feels like. Only through genuine understanding of these challenges can employees and managers hope to make lasting changes.
As your company begins to work toward creating a respectful workplace, you may begin to see changes. People may be more open to one another’s ideas. They may become more productive. Fewer reports to HR may mean more time spent on taking care of all employees. Your respectful workplace can even create greater trust between employees and management, as everyone understands their roles in preventing harassment.
Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.