This is a topic that has gotten a lot of attention in recent months, as news articles continue to uncover just how frequently workplace harassment occurs, and how infrequently it is actually reported.
Sexual harassment policies are essential in today’s modern workplace. But just how effective are they in general? Given that so many cases go unreported, it is clear that oftentimes victims do not feel like they have the support or resources they need to speak up. This can lead to huge financial liabilities for companies down the line, costing millions in lawsuits and settlements.
At the end of the day, it is just good business to ensure that your company has an effective workplace harassment policy in place. Doing so not only benefits your employees, but it also creates financial security for the future of the company.
Let’s take a look at some of the major ways that sexual harassment policies fall short, and what can be done to improve them.
Don’t Isolate the Topic
All too often, the topic of workplace harassment is minimized to a weeklong “training program” that employees complete individually once a year. It’s seen as a check-the-box activity that is done in isolation as opposed to being discussed openly and integrated into the company culture. By doing so, companies actually compartmentalize the issue to the point that it doesn’t feel like something that people can ever talk about—even if they witness it happen to themselves or a colleague.
Encourage Open Communication
Employees often don’t speak up because they are afraid of being punished or facing retaliation. But do they know who to speak to if they do encounter an issue? Do you have an open door policy that offers a safe place to employees to bring up difficult topics without fear? These are things that need to be reiterated to your full team from Day One. As part of your on-boarding process, let new hires know that there is a zero-tolerance policy and a few people that they can safely go to if they ever feel uncomfortable.
Listen to Your Employees
There’s probably a good amount that takes place on the ground floor without management knowing. Policies can only do so much. You need to be actively getting feedback from your employees so you know about potential problems before they get out of hand. Consider instilling a yearly or quarterly anonymous survey that asks employees about the company culture, if they have experienced harassment, where there are underlying issues, and what management can be doing better.
Take a Stand Against Workplace Harassment
These ideas are all well and good, but they mean absolutely nothing unless there is actual follow through from the company. This means that real and timely action needs to take place if there is ever an instance of workplace harassment. If management does nothing, it tells employees that their voices don’t matter, and that the company is not on their side. The company needs to set the standard if they expect to create a culture of accountability—one where individuals feel safe to speak up, treat one another with respect, and look out each other.