Harassment Training – Does it Work?

Last week, we posted about the EEOC’s suggested best practices for avoiding harassment.  A recent article in the NY Times provides additional insight into harassment training and suggests that traditional training – lectures, PowerPoint presentations, videos – does not effectively stop harassment in the workplace.  These approaches can educate about legal terms, and inform employees about complaint procedures, but they do not appear to prevent harassment.  Instead, while training is important, employers need to change the culture and behavioral expectations in their workplace.

One way harassment can be reduced is when co-workers are empowered to stand up for one-another.   When a co-worker who witnesses harassment voices an objection, or follows up with harasser and asks whether they were aware of how their comments/behavior came across, or engages others in a discussion about the inappropriate comment, the result is a reduction in workplace harassment (and a more respectful culture).  Just as important, however, is the need for bystanders to talk to the victim of harassment to see if they are OK and to support such individuals.

The EEOC has also designed new training programs that focus on civility, including discussing respectful behaviors, teaching employees how to praise good performance, how to avoid interrupting, and how to give and receive constructive feedback about rude behavior.

Fundamentally, training should occur often and should be conducted by management or  an outside facilitator.  There is also some authority that suggests that when training is conducted by a male member of management, employees take it more seriously.  Further, when you have more women in positions of power, there is less sexual harassment all around.

Finally, employers need to come up with ways to encourage reporting, which could be as simple as giving multiple people responsibility for hearing complaints.  Another idea is to use an “information escrow” which is where a victim reports harassment by a particular person, but the employer agrees that the report will only become “active” if another employees complains about the same person.

Employers should continue to conduct harassment training, but as the NY Times article indicates, training alone will not create a respectful workplace.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/upshot/sexual-harassment-workplace-prevention-effective.html (subscription may be required).

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