Evolving Issues in Workplace Harassment: Where do We Go from Here?

Evolving Issues in Workplace Harassment: Where do We Go from Here?

  • The prevention of workplace harassment has evolved in recent years from liability avoidance to cultural improvement and incident prevention.
  • In order to facilitate cultural change, it is necessary to offer the workforce an education program that goes far beyond what is required for legal compliance.
  • The issue of harassment has evolved from the pure legal definition into a more colloquial definition that includes offensive behavior of all kinds.

Workplace Harassment: Where are We Now?

Summer 2021 marks a full four years since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. The past four years have seen an increased focus on awareness of not just sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, but also on other forms of bullying and illegal harassment motivated by a number of other characteristics. This increased focus is the product of increased social awareness concerning issues of gender, sexuality, race, religion, political beliefs and other sensitive issues. As scrutiny of all types of harassment has increased (amid a global pandemic nonetheless), we find ourselves working in an environment fraught with tension and concern over an incident occurring within our workplace that could derail strides made to improve culture throughout the organization. 

According to a 2021 survey, of 1,215 respondents, the highest percentage of employees to report being a victim of bullying and/or harassment are women (reporting being targeted by men) and minorities (reporting being targeted by whites). Although this representative sample shows that those claiming to experience offensive behavior in the workplace remain traditionally marginalized groups, it is important to point out that the survey showed a strong number of males (12%) and white employees (30%) experiencing or being victims of similar offensive behavior by women or non-white employees. It doesn’t take more data to conclude that we still have the deeply engrained roots of a very serious workplace harassment problem despite many employer’s efforts to combat the problem through policy and training. 

Workplace Harassment: Where Should we be Going?

While the state of the American workforce in 2021 sounds bleak given all of the issues and data highlighted in the paragraphs above, these issues merely highlight the need for organizations of all sizes to channel their energy into compassion and empathy for their workforce as a whole in order to greatly improve culture from within. What has changed in the past four years is we are seeing a de-emphasis on corporate education as a means of compliance with mandatory training laws, and an increase on larger scale education programs aimed at improving the overall culture and mental health of the workforce as a whole. This can only be done by respecting and understanding the sensitivities and needs of what is inherently a diverse workforce with differing beliefs and interest priorities.

A discerning reader may notice that we did not analyze harassment statistics from the EEOC or another source as many of our articles on the subject have in the past. This is because the concept of harassment has evolved greatly from just illegal (i.e. discriminatory) harassment to offensive behavior of all types. For this reason, it is far more important to analyze reports of bullying (whether illegal or not) as a means of learning about workplace culture and areas ripe for improvement. 

  • Mandatory training laws miss the mark

While compliance with mandatory training laws is obviously essential, many (if not all) of these laws miss the mark on what employers should be focused on in their training and policy programs. Where employers fail their workforce is when they view education on workplace harassment, diversity, equity & inclusion and workplace civility and respect as a drain on productivity or a negative. This view often spreads to management who sees training their workforce as a productivity loss. All too often, training material and courseware is developed to comply with a set of laws merely to check a box and produce a compliance certificate, and adds little to no value to the workforce, its need for empathy and compassion or the organization’s much needed message that it cares about its employees and not just avoiding legal liability. 

  • Employees need more from their training 

With the understanding that employees expect more than a certificate of compliance and a talking head lawyer on their screen or in the room offering a law school class on illegal sexual harassment (while ignoring the wide variety of issues that make up the concept of workplace harassment), Syntrio has developed a philosophy of training that goes beyond mandatory compliance.  If applied correctly, this approach will not just comply with the law, but dramatically increases the potential for your organizational culture to improve and your workforce to actually begin to understand and relate to the issues at hand, thereby increasing the possibility that incidents can be avoided before they become a larger issue. 

Workplace Harassment: How Do We Formulate a Plan in 2021’s (and beyond) environment?

 Gone are the days where employees will tolerate a one-hour video based course on sexual harassment. Everyone has seen one and everyone has cringed at the uncomfortable nature and production of this material. Employees expect to derive value from the time they spend on corporate education, and employers should seek to gain something other than compliance with a law or policy when providing training to their employees.

  • A different approach is now required 

Given how far workplace harassment has evolved from simple sexual harassment it is now necessary to take a three (plus)-pronged approach to your training and it must be a commitment that is ongoing throughout each one or two-year cycle. By training your employees not just on sexual harassment, but workplace harassment of all kinds in conjunction with diversity (and more importantly) equity and inclusion of people, thoughts, and beliefs, as well as training on techniques to improve civility and respect (such as speaking up and bystander intervention) you are far better positioned to facilitate the cultural change that will lead to intolerance of offensive behavior in the workplace and a reduction in the potential for incidents. 

While increasing the time spent training may sound like a big ask in an environment where employee time is at a premium, the EEOC and other administrative agencies have begun mandating not just harassment training, but also anti-bullying and diversity training when conciliating claims. By getting ahead of this process you will arm your workforce with the knowledge necessary to make changes, while at the same time informing your employees that your organization is invested in maintaining a positive culture that has no tolerance for offensive behavior of any kind. 

  • Syntrio is well-equipped to help you achieve your goals 

There is absolutely no time investment that is too high when it comes to maintaining the mental health and well-being of your workforce. Employers have an absolute duty to ensure that individuals working for them are in a good mental space free from threats of harassment at work. Syntrio’s courses can be taken in micro-learning segments or in larger form chunks, thereby eliminating the need to use a large block of time to conduct training. By reinforcing the message all year round (and not just one day a year), your organization can demonstrate a commitment to making actual change rather than checking yet another compliance box. Given all the issues highlighted above, there is an absolute need for a change in the way employers train their workforce. The opportunity is now for your organization to do a better job of minimizing the potential for incidents of workplace harassment and Syntrio is well-equipped to help you plan and implement your program going forward. 

Workplace Harassment: Where are we Now?

Summer 2021 marks a full four years since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. The past four years have seen an increased focus on awareness of not just sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, but also on other forms of bullying and illegal harassment motivated by a number of other characteristics. This increased focus is the product of increased social awareness concerning issues of gender, sexuality, race, religion, political beliefs and other sensitive issues. As scrutiny of all types of harassment has increased (amid a global pandemic nonetheless), we find ourselves working in an environment fraught with tension and concern over an incident occurring within our workplace that could derail strides made to improve culture throughout the organization. 

According to a 2021 survey, of 1,215 respondents, the highest percentage of employees to report being a victim of bullying and/or harassment are women (reporting being targeted by men) and minorities (reporting being targeted by whites). Although this representative sample shows that those claiming to experience offensive behavior in the workplace remain traditionally marginalized groups, it is important to point out that the survey showed a strong number of males (12%) and white employees (30%) experiencing or being victims of similar offensive behavior by women or non-white employees. It doesn’t take more data to conclude that we still have the deeply engrained roots of a very serious workplace harassment problem despite many employer’s efforts to combat the problem through policy and training. 

Workplace Harassment: Where Should we be Going?

While the state of the American workforce in 2021 sounds bleak given all of the issues and data highlighted in the paragraphs above, these issues merely highlight the need for organizations of all sizes to channel their energy into compassion and empathy for their workforce as a whole in order to greatly improve culture from within. What has changed in the past four years is we are seeing a de-emphasis on corporate education as a means of compliance with mandatory training laws, and an increase on larger scale education programs aimed at improving the overall culture and mental health of the workforce as a whole. This can only be done by respecting and understanding the sensitivities and needs of what is inherently a diverse workforce with differing beliefs and interest priorities.

A discerning reader may notice that we did not analyze harassment statistics from the EEOC or another source as many of our articles on the subject have in the past. This is because the concept of harassment has evolved greatly from just illegal (i.e. discriminatory) harassment to offensive behavior of all types. For this reason, it is far more important to analyze reports of bullying (whether illegal or not) as a means of learning about workplace culture and areas ripe for improvement. 

  • Mandatory training laws miss the mark

While compliance with mandatory training laws is obviously essential, many (if not all) of these laws miss the mark on what employers should be focused on in their training and policy programs. Where employers fail their workforce is when they view education on workplace harassment, diversity, equity & inclusion and workplace civility and respect as a drain on productivity or a negative. This view often spreads to management who sees training their workforce as a productivity loss. All too often, training material and courseware is developed to comply with a set of laws merely to check a box and produce a compliance certificate, and adds little to no value to the workforce, its need for empathy and compassion or the organization’s much needed message that it cares about its employees and not just avoiding legal liability. 

  • Employees need more from their training 

With the understanding that employees expect more than a certificate of compliance and a talking head lawyer on their screen or in the room offering a law school class on illegal sexual harassment (while ignoring the wide variety of issues that make up the concept of workplace harassment), Syntrio has developed a philosophy of training that goes beyond mandatory compliance.  If applied correctly, this approach will not just comply with the law, but dramatically increases the potential for your organizational culture to improve and your workforce to actually begin to understand and relate to the issues at hand, thereby increasing the possibility that incidents can be avoided before they become a larger issue. 

Workplace Harassment: How Do We Formulate a Plan in 2021’s (and beyond) environment?

 Gone are the days where employees will tolerate a one-hour video based course on sexual harassment. Everyone has seen one and everyone has cringed at the uncomfortable nature and production of this material. Employees expect to derive value from the time they spend on corporate education, and employers should seek to gain something other than compliance with a law or policy when providing training to their employees.

  • A different approach is now required 

Given how far workplace harassment has evolved from simple sexual harassment it is now necessary to take a three (plus)-pronged approach to your training and it must be a commitment that is ongoing throughout each one or two-year cycle. By training your employees not just on sexual harassment, but workplace harassment of all kinds in conjunction with diversity (and more importantly) equity and inclusion of people, thoughts, and beliefs, as well as training on techniques to improve civility and respect (such as speaking up and bystander intervention) you are far better positioned to facilitate the cultural change that will lead to intolerance of offensive behavior in the workplace and a reduction in the potential for incidents. 

While increasing the time spent training may sound like a big ask in an environment where employee time is at a premium, the EEOC and other administrative agencies have begun mandating not just harassment training, but also anti-bullying and diversity training when conciliating claims. By getting ahead of this process you will arm your workforce with the knowledge necessary to make changes, while at the same time informing your employees that your organization is invested in maintaining a positive culture that has no tolerance for offensive behavior of any kind. 

  • Syntrio is well-equipped to help you achieve your goals 

There is absolutely no time investment that is too high when it comes to maintaining the mental health and well-being of your workforce. Employers have an absolute duty to ensure that individuals working for them are in a good mental space free from threats of harassment at work. Syntrio’s courses can be taken in micro-learning segments or in larger form chunks, thereby eliminating the need to use a large block of time to conduct training. By reinforcing the message all year round (and not just one day a year), your organization can demonstrate a commitment to making actual change rather than checking yet another compliance box. Given all the issues highlighted above, there is an absolute need for a change in the way employers train their workforce. The opportunity is now for your organization to do a better job of minimizing the potential for incidents of workplace harassment and Syntrio is well-equipped to help you plan and implement your program going forward. 

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law, with a focus on litigation, individual plaintiff and class action discrimination, harassment, and other employment-specific cases as well as focusing his practice toward advising employers on preventive practice. Jonathan has presented over 100 live employment discrimination and harassment prevention training courses across all 50 states.

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