Since last October, numerous sexual abuse allegations have been levied against high-profile individuals in organizations with household names — often resulting in financial and business repercussions in addition to the trauma suffered by the victims and the effects of a hostile workplace on others. As a result, boards of directors are demanding that executive leaders take an immediate and proactive approach to preventing harassment in the workplace for both business and moral reasons.
In other words, organizations are realizing they can no longer look the other way when they should be preventing harassment in the workplace for sexual harassment or workplace bullying and expect employees to remain engaged and productive. And, the benefits of ensuring a safe and harassment-free work environment far outweigh the costs.
How can organizations make the changes that alter perspectives and behaviors on this issue? The exact steps will differ based on the organization’s resources and existing protocols, but generally speaking, effective sexual harassment prevention starts with clear policies. All organizations should have an employee handbook that details what types of unwanted behaviors are considered sexual harassment, and what steps should be taken by an employee who believes they have been harassed, or observes an employee harassing others.
Supervisors should have clear procedures in place to make sure that these situations are dealt with swiftly, sensitively and effectively. These procedures should be consistent and well-articulated so all managers know exactly what to do if a situation arises. What’s more, all levels of the organization (including the very top) must be involved in upholding the processes and modeling appropriate behavior. As Forbes notes, CEOs have a duty to use their influence to shift organizational culture from the top down.
Last but not least, education is critical. Proper anti-harassment training reinforces written policy by showing users what harassment looks like and what to do about it. The use of videos that enact different scenarios is extremely effective in demonstrating both the unwanted behaviors and how to handle them. Regular and continuous training ensures employees understand the organization’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace and to policy enforcement.
While some of this advice sounds like it might be targeted toward larger enterprises, small and medium sized businesses can also adopt harassment prevention policies and make a commitment to safe workplaces. It doesn’t take a big budget to provide effective training, nor should it take a multi-million dollar lawsuit to emphasize the importance of sexual harassment awareness and prevention.