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Eight ways to create a corporate culture that rejects harassing behaviours

Written by Eric Pliner on Monday, 17 December 2018. Posted in Employment law, Legal

More companies are being held accountable for employees sleazy behaviours. Fortunately, employers can do a lot to keep sexism and harassment at a minimum

Eight ways to create a corporate culture that rejects harassing behaviours

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not new to society. In fact, it’s a centuries old practice with roots entrenched in chattel slavery. However, it’s infested organisations throughout the years and today it falls under the topic of diversity and inclusion – nestled in between sub-categories including gender inequality and abuse of power. It is a practice that continues to permeate workplaces despite growing unrest from employees asking for actions to be taken to counter it.

It needs to be said that sexual harassment is everyone’s issue. Regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or recipient of harassing behaviours, it also affects observers, bystanders, the general workplace culture and even employees’ families. Proactive cultivation of psychologically safe and healthy workplace cultures is therefore part of every employee’s job. Harassing behaviours erode trust, wellness, and safety – both physical and psychological – and is first and foremost an issue of our humanity.

There are also ramifications for business, as it affects employees’ ability to be fully present at work, their belief in their ability to be successful in their organisations, and their ability to collaborate successfully. This can lead to significant productivity loss, contractual or punitive resolution fees for both the harasser and those harassed. It can also affect employee turnover and replacement costs.

In a time when more and more businesses are having to face up to reports of various forms of workplace harassment being experienced by their employees, responsible leaders across all industries must start making concerted and visible efforts to create healthier and safer corporate cultures that actively reject said behaviours rather than cover them up. By the time employees reach the stage of protesting, like we saw happen on a large scale at Google’s offices across the globe in November 2018, we have already failed a significant part of our employee population and customer base.

It is important to note that sexual harassment cannot be resolved via coaching. While coaching methods can sometimes be helpful in supporting a broader approach to building empathy and interpersonal understanding across organisations, harassment is a violation of workplace rules and sometimes the law and therefore requires swift investigation and decisive disciplinary action, not developmental coaching. The legal and ethical responsibility for sexual harassment is not just on the harasser, but also on the company and its leaders. Here are eight ways through which leaders can make sure they foster a corporate culture free from all sort of harassing behaviours. 

Firstly, make sure you regularly and proactively ask employees in one-on-one supervision about the overall culture.

Secondly, arrange visible outlets for anonymous reporting. 

Thirdly, articulate and publicise clear email and social media policies for both business and personal accounts.

Wherever there are people, there will be a risk for attraction between individuals. But while office romances will always occur, it’s paramount that you as an employer establish clear policies and guidelines for employee intimate relationships.

Another important way to ensure you introduce and nurture a culture without sexism and sleazy behaviours is to ask about experiences of the overall culture and with any identity-based harassment during employee exit interviews.

Similarly, make sure to offer mandatory, interactive annual training for all employees on policies, expectations, and resolution methods related to harassing behaviours.

Also, create regular, visible opportunities for key leaders to speak openly and on the record, both internally and externally, about sexual harassment and their expectation of employee behaviour and organisational culture

Finally, complete swift and thorough investigation in the face of accusations of harassing behaviour, followed by full and appropriate disciplinary action if needed.

While you can never prevent people from behaving badly, putting measures like these in place can minimise the risk and ensure the company has a better protection in case things do go wrong. 

About the Author

Eric Pliner

Eric Pliner

Eric Pliner is the managing director and chief commercial officer at YSC Consulting, the leadership consultancy.

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