Smart ways for government entities to reduce workplace harassment

ELI Founder and CEO Stephen Paskoff was recently interviewed by Mike Causey, senior correspondent and host of Federal News Radio’s “Your Turn,” to offer suggestions to government entities for reducing incidents of workplace harassment.

Clear communication is key

Paskoff’s core message in the interview was that clear communication of the organization’s culture, including behavior that is expected and that which is not tolerated, should be communicated from top management on a regular basis.
With a continued rise in incidents of harassment related to race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, Paskoff stated that these messages are often mixed with legalese or presented in a rote fashion, leaving employees to tune out the message, ignore it, or assume that it doesn’t apply to them. More, employees often see contradictory behavior from superiors, leaving them to assume that the rules will not be enforced, do not apply to them, or that they won’t get caught if they do ignore the mandates.
A former trial attorney with the EEOC and author of Civility Rules, Paskoff explained that a clear message of what is and is not expected regarding workplace behavior must come from the top, both in words and action. Further, that message must percolate through the government organization’s employee base at all levels.

Four tips for communicating culture and expectations

1. Walk the Walk
Understand that the tone for workplace behavior and culture is set at the top. People often emulate the behavior they see, so leaders must ‘walk the walk’ and set a proper example.
2. Make the Effort
Create a culture that reinforces this message at all levels. Large departments or remote locations can create an environment of separate cultures. It takes conscious effort and continued communication to establish and maintain a healthy culture in the workplace.
3. Remove the Fear of Retaliation
Communicate rules in such a way that employees know what is and is not tolerated, and that their reports will be taken seriously. It’s often difficult for employees to come forward for fear of retaliation. Be clear that their voices will be heard and that retaliation will not be tolerated.
4. Consider the Whole
Don’t just focus on the laws of civil behavior and compliance. Operations are also at risk in an environment with poor workplace behavior, affecting teamwork, values, productivity, and mission. Creating a positive culture fosters the best in people and their best ideas.
Paskoff noted that there were 6,792 harassment complaints within the federal sector in 2016, already at a cost of $76 million to taxpayers, with more cases and litigation pending. The issue is real and costs government money, time, productivity and often some of its best employees. Setting a tone for civil behavior that aligns with the organizational values and that will permeate throughout each government agency is critical.
“Your Turn” airs on Federal News Radio on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. Listen to Stephen Paskoff’s interview here.

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