The workplace should be safe for everyone. Harassment incidents must be avoided at all costs. To do that, you may follow these recommendations.
Recently, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette resigned amid harassment claims. Her staff members had accused the stateswoman of bullying, which resulted in a toxic workplace environment. To address the issue, the Canadian government has launched an investigation spearheaded by a third party.
This is just one of the many high-profile workplace harassment cases that made it to the news as of late. Despite progressive movements that seek to foster diversity and respect among members of society and in smaller clusters like workplaces, specifically, it seems like the problem persists.
It is time to reevaluate workplace culture—why and how it permeates harassment and discrimination, and what must be done about it.
Harassment in the workplace manifests in a variety of ways. Here are the most common types.
- Discriminatory harassment : This happens when an employee experiences harassment that is overtly or covertly linked to their background, identity, or demographic detail. For example, if an Asian American brings food from home, and another colleague makes inappropriate comments about how gross the food is, that’s racial discrimination. Other protected clauses include gender and sexuality, age, disability, and religion.
- Sexual harassment : This happens when implicit or explicit sexual comments or advances are made by one colleague, putting another in an uncomfortable position professionally or Remember that workplace sexual harassment is not exclusively about sex. It’s about the dynamics of power and control.
- Personal harassment : This falls outside the protective clauses mentioned earlier. But it is just as demeaning for the victim. Example: An employee regularly taunting another employee just because the former does not like the latter.
- Physical harassment : Any verbal or physical assault made by one colleague to another is considered physical harassment.
- Power harassment : Consider the case mentioned earlier of disgraced Canadian Governor General Julie Payette as an example.
- Psychological harassment : This type of harassment can be harder to pinpoint. But if there’s undue mental distress caused by one employee to another, there’s likely a case of psychological harassment. This mental distress may be triggered by malicious rumors spread, excessive criticism, or making an employee feel isolated, among others.
- Third-party harassment : This happens when rank and file employees are harassed by suppliers, vendors, and clients.
- Cyber harassment : Employees who take their dislike of a colleague online or on social media may be accountable for workplace harassment.
Towards a Safe and Harassment-Free Workplace Environment
There are ways to address workplace harassment proactively. That means putting solutions in place even before a problem arises. Here are recommendations you may try.
1. Workplace harassment training is provided to employees, so they know how to do their job. The same logic should apply to how they behave at the workplace. Training specifically designed to teach employees about workplace harassment should be part of organizations’ operational framework. The training should define harassment and thoroughly discuss its repercussions. Laying out preventive measures should also factor into the sessions. More than educating employees about what constitutes workplace harassment, training will also provide an organization with an avenue for an open forum. Here, everyone can share insights and questions. Men will hear from women. Employees from minority groups get to tell their stories to the dominant group.
2. Write down policies Training will not suffice if there are no written policies to refer to should a harassment case happen. Make sure to stay as long as needed in the drawing board to draft a clear and conclusive system on how harassment incidents will be addressed. Let the organization’s legal counsel spearhead policy-making, but make sure that all demographics are represented in the discussions instead of limiting policy-making to top officials. Communicate these written policies to all members of the organization from those in corner offices down to custodians. Everyone should be on the same page.
3. Promote an open door policy The least toxic workplaces are those where employees feel free to consult with their superiors whenever they want to. When it comes to workplace harassment prevention, an open door policy serves both the interest of the aggrieved party and the managers that are inevitably tasked to solve harassment cases. The aggrieved party does not have to wait for a formal written complaint to verbally retell their experience. Meanwhile, managers do not have to face the risk of knowing about the case from the news or a letter from the labor department, which is likely to happen if a victim feels like reporting a harassment incident to superiors is an unnecessarily complicated process.
4. Investigate with fairness Sympathy should always lie on the allegedly aggrieved party. That goes without saying that fair investigation must be carried out. And it must be done with urgency. Depending on the gravity of the situation, this process can take either a day or an entire year. Those cases that take no more than a day to settle will probably require requesting the colleague at fault to address their destructive behavior, reorient themselves on the organization’s anti-harassment policy, and apologize to their victim. Meanwhile, for cases in need of extensive investigations, all pieces of evidence must be documented. These include witness testimonials and tangible proofs like emails.
5. Walk the talk Workplace culture trickles down from the top. For example, if the CEO greets everyone every time they arrive at the office, chances are employees will mirror it, and in no time, casual greeting between colleagues will be part of the organization’s culture. If the CEO makes inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature to female employees, it’s a recipe for disaster no matter how foolproof an organization’s anti-harassment policy is. More importantly, if a high-ranking official is accused of harassment and found guilty, they should receive the full brunt of the organization’s policy against workplace harassment. Think of it as setting an example.
Workplace Safety as Everyone’s Responsibility
Ensuring that a workplace remains safe for everyone rests upon the policymakers within an organization. That means leaders and managers must exert extra effort to foster an office culture where there’s no room for discrimination or harassment. That goes without saying that for those efforts to succeed, everyone must be on board. Each member of the organization must have a sense of self-awareness and accountability.
Once a harassment case transpires, do not sweep it under the rug. Take the bull by the horns and convey a message of non-tolerance. No one should feel like harassing colleagues is something they can get away with. After all, that’s where a toxic workplace culture begins.