To help colleagues and employees understand what behavior is appropriate in the workplace, experience has shown that clarity and guidance are necessary, especially on such an important issue.
That’s why sexual harassment prevention training is such a foundational step in building a culture of civility at your workplace.
Good sexual harassment prevention training gets everyone on the same page about acceptable behavior, and it makes the consequences of bad behavior absolutely clear.
However, not all sexual harassment prevention programs are created equal. If you’ve noticed that your organization’s sexual harassment prevention training is less than engaging, try making some of these simple improvements.
Clarify the link to organizational effectiveness and outcomes
If you’re not careful about the way sexual harassment prevention training is presented, your employees might go into it expecting an awkward, compliance-focused exercise that isn’t relevant to the rest of their work.
You’ll get more out of your training if you establish right away that this training is just as important as other mission-critical initiatives.
Think about it: When employees have to perform other sensitive tasks, such as operating machinery or even sending an email to your entire customer list, they get supervised and trained first. They’re shown how to do the job properly and guided through how to avoid common and potentially very damaging mistakes. They’re given a chance to practice in a safe, supervised environment before they try the job on their own.
Bad workplace behavior such as sexual harassment can do just as much damage to your business as other operational mistakes.
It can increase employee turnover (resulting in increased hiring and training expenses, plus a loss of institutional knowledge), kill productivity, and invite expensive lawsuits with huge settlements. Those all make it difficult for your organization to reach its goals.
When employees know this, the training will be more effective.
Focus more on the role of bystanders
When your employees hear that they’re required to attend sexual harassment training, they’ll assume that it’s not actually for them — it’s for the people who don’t know how to act appropriately.
Few people think that they’re the ones who act poorly at work. And if they are indeed aware that the way they act is hurtful to others, training isn’t likely to help (just think of Harvey Weinstein as an example).
But when employees understand that each of them plays an important role in stopping the harassment wherever it happens, employees go into the training with a feeling of agency and interest.
Bystanders do indeed play a critical role in sexual harassment prevention. Employees who witness sexual harassment often look the other way because they think it’s not their place to intervene, or they don’t know exactly how to intervene, or they’re afraid of getting in trouble when they do.
For more on empowering bystanders, read our article Understanding the Bystander’s Role in Sexual Harassment at Work.
Give students more ways to interact with the material
As we wrote in our post 5 Examples of Effective Civility Training, there are plenty of ways for your employees to learn what they need to know outside of a traditional conference room.
If you’re like most companies, your employees have a variety of schedules, workloads, and learning preferences. Some may be traveling frequently, and others may only work part-time, which can make it difficult to come in for in-person training.
Using tools like e-learning and virtual-instructor-led training can make it easier for some employees to get through the material in a way that works for them. This can make the experience less stressful and more effective. E-learning and VILT can also let employees work at their own pace, reviewing and reinforcing parts of the material as necessary.
Review and reinforce the training over time
Most workplaces don’t bother with the topic of sexual harassment prevention more than they’re required to, which is often just once a year. However, a once-annual binge of education doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room for reinforcement. It also doesn’t demonstrate to employees that harassment training is a real priority for the organization.
Leaders can make it a point to review and reinforce the lessons of sexual harassment training more often, even without formal classes. That can mean bringing up progress on civility initiatives along with progress toward other goals in scheduled meetings, for example.
But many workplaces are also taking advantage of a learning technique that makes it more likely that students remember the material for the long-term.
In microlearning, lessons are condensed as much as possible and delivered in short bursts over an extended period of time. These lessons can come in-person, in video form, or even in written form via email or social media. Microlearning can’t replace core learning, but it can be very complementary to that learning. It can play an important role in making sure employees actually internalize the material and use it.
Focus on the “shoulds” instead of just the “shouldn’ts”
Sometimes, it’s easier to list a series of prohibited behaviors than it is to give people proactive instructions about what to do instead.
And it might truly seem like as long as people know what behaviors to avoid, everything will be fine. But that’s a mistake.
If you don’t give people actionable ways to use the material they’ve been taught, little is likely to change.
For example, managers can know what behavior can constitute sexual harassment. But if they haven’t had a chance to practice responding to reports of sexual harassment in a way that makes their employees feel heard and comfortable, there’s still plenty of room for damage.
Being given a chance to act and react to scenarios that they will likely face in real life in a practice environment gives them the tools they need to succeed. (It also makes the training much more interesting and engaging, as we wrote in our post Why Learning Requires Doing and What That Means for Employee Training.)
Focusing on the “don’ts” can also lead to your employees feeling like they’re stuck in a state of inaction. Any experienced HR professional can tell you that ignoring a sexual harassment issue or hoping it goes away on its own will only make it much worse.
Roll sexual harassment training into other workplace civility initiatives
All hurtful workplace behavior (harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc.) tends to stem from the same root problems.
Of course, there are different nuances to each type of bad workplace behavior, whether it’s a manager going on an angry or abusive tirade against one of their reports, or an employee listening to an offensive talk radio show on their break.
But in the end, most workplace civility problems boil down to the fact that employees aren’t taught to actively listen to one another’s concerns, negative or positive, and apologize effectively when they’ve done something hurtful.Most workplace civility problems boil down to the fact that employees aren’t taught to listen well and apologize effectively. Click To Tweet
Although discrimination and sexual harassment each deserve some individual attention, treating them like completely separate issues is a mistake. Too many separate training programs can overwhelm employees. It also misses a valuable opportunity to address bad workplace behavior in a holistic way.
That’s why at ELI, we developed the Civil Treatment Workplace program, which takes a comprehensive approach to preventing bad workplace behavior.
ELI’s team has years of legal expertise, so the Civil Treatment Workplace program meets s all the legal and compliance requirements. More importantly, though, it helps organizations build workplace cultures where civility can thrive for the long-term.
For more information or to request a quote, please contact us.