Identifying and Preventing Workplace Harassment in 2020
Fueled by the #MeToo movement and long overdue change, employers are ramping up their harassment prevention strategy for 2020!
Avoiding opportunity for harassment in your workplace is crucial to maintaining a safe, comfortable and fair workplace for employees while also establishing a respectable reputation that will endure decades of business.
Conducting self-assessments regularly and being proactive in your approach to preventing harassment in your workplace is crucial. While establishing compressive policies and reporting procedures is nodoubt a must-do preventive measure, if you identify that one or more of these key risk factors for harassment is present in your workplace, be sure to promptly investigate the situation and ensure that all employees involved are keenly aware of your policies and how to effectively report instances of harassment.
Harassment risks aren’t often easy to spot and there are many underlying complexities (besides an easily identifiable hostile environment) that can lead to unfortunate, unsafe situations.
Failing to protect an employee when there is an increased likelihood of harassment could not only tarnish your organization’s reputation permanently but also leave you to be found liable in a court of law – even when created by a customer or non-employee!
Here Are Some Potential Harassment Risks to Look Out For In Your Workplace
Reliance on Customer Service or Satisfaction
In roles where an employee’s success (and compensation) is reliant on customer service or satisfaction such as a customer service representative, call center agent, retail associate or account manager, harassment can be common. These unfortunate situations often arise due to the need to satisfy, please and meet standards or expectations. Given the nature of these roles often being customer or client-facing, harassment can frequently be initiated both internally or externally. In customer or client-facing interactions, the threat of losing a sale may incentivize employees to tolerate unacceptable or harassing behavior where the “customer is always right” mentality is taken too far.
Isolated or Decentralized Workplaces
Not too much of a surprise here but when employees are not in centralized, populated environments with supervision, a lot can go wrong, everything from water cooler conversation running rampant to decreased productivity to harassment. When isolated and not in a structured business environment, employees quickly revert to a causal and informal demeanor to easily mistaken what is fair, appropriate and consensual while also providing harassers with easier access to their targets with less witnesses.
Also common in decentralized workplaces, managers or reports can be less monitored and therefore less accountable for their behavior so they may have the opportunity to act outside of accepted behavioral standards and performed unwelcomed contact. When harassment occurs between employees with equal seniority, their manager may be isolated from their leadership who can advise and provide direction to resolve the matter and cease it from continuing. If you are operating or overseeing a business with an isolated or decentralized workforce, be sure that harassment policies and procedures reach all levels of the company no matter the geographical distance as well as equipping managers with the authority and proper knowledge on how to quickly identify harassment risks and cease inappropriate behavior.
This risk is almost inevitable in small businesses, but this risk can be decreased by ensuring your small team is very diverse (age, gender, superiority level, etc) and consider restructuring work schedules and environments to reduce the occurrence of isolated conditions.
Monotonous or Low-intensity Work
With employees performing slow, easy or repetitive work day in day out, there is often room for casual conversations and relaxed culture that leads to professional lines being blurred. Simply put, more down time = more time for getting to know co-workers on a more personal level. Frustration from repetitive work or severe boredom have also been known to foster harassment.
To initially reduce this risk, try restructuring and diversifying employees’ daily responsibilities to reduce monotony and overall boredom. It is crucial that managers and supervisors pay close attention to the relations between employees who collectively perform low-intensity tasks and spend much of their work day together.
Homogeneous or Young Workforce
Absent diversity, employees that identify as a minority can feel isolated and vulnerable to pressure from other employees. Employees in the majority are often led to feel threatened by those with differing backgrounds and perspectives or feel uncomfortable or unable to communicate with them. By perusing diversity within initial hiring processes, you can ensure that your organization reaches a level of diversity that allows employees to actively experience working with those that are different from them. Environments with a prevalent young workforce may be less aware of laws or workplace norms and lack the maturity to understand the personal and professional consequences of their actions at work.
A young workplace also poses a large threat of harassment because of their less-tenured, less superior placement within the company which creates an opportunity for more established or older employees to take advantage of and young employees may lack the self-confidence and superiority to resist or report unwelcome conduct.
Coarsened Social Discourse or Non-conformance with Workplace Norms
From time-to-time we’ve all discussed politics or other current events while in casual conversation with our co-workers and the dialogue gets unintentionally heated quickly. This conversation can get divisive and polarizing while easily creates a hostile work environment with strong differing opinions. It is important to train and regularly remind your workforce that while these conversations do organically occur sometimes that respect and professionalism must be maintained too. Work environments with employees who do not conform to workplace norms are also notorious for creating harassment-prevalent and hostile spaces. Allowing employees to make inappropriate remarks, jokes, or banter masked as humor that creates a ‘rough and tumble’, raunchy or demeaning culture is crucial to put an end to immediately.
Letting these little comments slip even occasionally creates a false sense of a lack of accountability within your employees and how they behave. The practice of keeping your employees aware of behavioral boundaries and policies even within very casual conversation and small comments is an effective preventative measure to lessen the risk of more severe instances of similar behavior such as harassment.
Proactive Anti-Harassment To-Do List
The easiest way to implement anti-harassment procedures in your company is before there is an incident! Here are some easy to-do’s to make sure your teams are harassment-free or ready at minimum to effective halt harassment in its beginning stages.
- Hold trainings to thoroughly inform employees on how to identify harassment and what your reporting processes entail to ensure a quick response to reported situations
- Consistently hold employees accountable for their behavior in other situations so that they are aware
- Ensure employees do not feel isolated at work – using mentorships, communications systems and installing reporting tools are great for improving internal operations at minimum but also helpful in harassment reporting if it is to take place
- When collecting their professional references of a potential new hire in your company, be sure to ask former reports and colleagues about that employees’ workplace behavior history. Having an awareness of this employee’s behavior and how they act when they encounter challenges or negative situations at work can give you some insight into if they pose a harassment or hostile environment threat.
PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.
A 3 time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.
PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.
To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees, contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions team at firstname.lastname@example.org.