As the #MeToo movement continues to reverberate across industries, the message is clear that sexual harassment training should be priority for all employees, not just managers and supervisors. Recently, New York City and New York State strengthened their anti-harassment laws to mandate training for all employees, supervisors and managers. Other states and municipalities are expected to follow.
Training is one of the pillars of a holistic approach to preventing harassment and other inappropriate conduct. If everyone is responsible for contributing to a respectful, safe workplace, then it follows that all employees should participate in training that provides the knowledge and skills they need to understand the interrelationship between preventing harassment, discrimination, anti-retaliation training, bias and other workplace conduct and creating a positive, inclusive work environment.
There are many benefits of sexual harassment training for employees. Here are five:
1. Strengthens your workplace culture
Training can support and help strengthen an organization’s culture by communicating its values, goals, and policies in creative and meaningful ways that motivate individuals to act ethically, while protecting the organization and its reputation.
At the 70th annual conference of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), President and CEO Johnny C Taylor said, “Organizations finally understand that the people issues that erupt in the workplace − from #MeToo, to pay disparity, to discrimination based on ethnicity, race, age, etc. − are about culture. And culture, inclusion and talent are the very essence of what we do as HR professionals.”
Taylor’s sentiments reflect those of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. In its report, the task force said that workplace culture exerts the greatest impact on whether organizations actively prevent harassment or allow it to proliferate.
2. Increases awareness of acceptable and unacceptable behavior
Since long before allegations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced in October 2017, workplace harassment has been a pervasive problem. The ability to recognize the many different forms of misconduct is an important step in motivating employees to respond when they experience or observe it. Training is one of the most effective and efficient way to raise awareness of the different types of unacceptable behavior – from the obvious to the subtle – and remove uncertainty about what is and what isn’t appropriate (and lawful) behavior. Through realistic examples and other relevant content, training can clarify gray areas and demonstrate how unwelcome conduct that goes unchecked can become harassment or discrimination.
3. Sends a strong message from the top
By requiring that all employees participate in training on a regular basis, organizations can send a clear message from the top that when it comes to preventing harassment and other abusive behavior and creating a respectful workplace, we’re all in this together.
4. Empowers bystanders
With the support of leadership, bystander intervention training could be a game changer in the workplace, said EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum and co-chair of the harassment task force. “Bystander intervention training can create a sense of collective responsibility on the part of workers and empower them to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment.”
Bystander intervention training provides individuals with different ways they can disrupt or stop harassing behavior, while also providing support for a co-worker or colleague. Importantly, the bystander role is a positive one that provides individuals with a different perspective on the effects of harassing behavior not just on the target but on others.
5. Encourages reporting
Many incidents of harassment and discrimination go unreported, which can result in a toxic work environment. This can lead to lower morale and productivity, hurt recruiting and retention efforts, and negatively affect relationships with customers, partners and others. Training can be an effective tool for educating and encouraging employees to report incidents or potential problems. Organizations can look to training as one of the most direct ways to explain their formal complaint process and increase awareness of the organization’s ethics hotline, dedicated email and other reporting mechanisms.
In today’s complex #MeToo environment, it’s essential that employees at every level and location understand how to recognize unacceptable behavior, how to report it and how to respond to and support co-workers and colleagues who may encounter it. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training, especially when tailored to your specific culture, industry and workforce, can be a strategic tool to educate, influence, and motivate positive behavior and change across your organization. That’s something that benefits everyone.