Most HR professionals know why harassment training is important, and yet, studies and first-person reports continue to indicate that traditional harassment training, by and large, doesn’t work to prevent workplace harassment.
Why? Often because employees see the legal-focused content as irrelevant to their day-to-day work and the punitive tone is a turnoff. While the content and tone are perhaps unsurprising given the traditional purposes for workplace harassment training, they do little to drive positive behavior at work—which is, of course, what prevention training should be going for.
Traditional Reasons for Why Harassment Training is Important
Traditionally, many employers have offered harassment training because 1) they are fulfilling harassment training requirements by state or federal guidelines, 2) they wanted a stronger legal defense in case of potential lawsuits, or 3) they feared the negative impacts of workplace harassment on the company—both from a cost and reputation standpoint.
Better Reasons for Workplace Harassment Training
Today, progressive companies are coming to understand that better reasons for workplace harassment training revolve around protecting employees from harassment, creating a safe and supportive work environment for all, and building a workplace culture of mutual respect.
While compliance is important and organizations must adhere to federal and state requirements, there is real risk involved when organizations fail to protect employees from harassment in the workplace.
A number of states have laws mandating that employers provide training on harassment prevention. But rather than taking a “check the box” approach to prove compliance, go beyond that “do the minimum required” approach and use the required training time to actually shape employee behavior and thereby prevent undesirable behaviors from happening in the first place. That is how companies can truly work to reduce workplace harassment and mitigate risk.
Training can do that—but not the type of harassment prevention training that has historically been delivered.
Effective Harassment Prevention Training: A Process, Not an Event
A mandatory, once a year (or once every other year) harassment prevention training session to remain compliant with legal requirements–without more–is not the type of effort that positively can shape a respectful workplace culture.
Instead, effective harassment prevention training should be part of an ongoing, prevention-focused communication process, rather than a single event. And like your training, the messaging that you create and deliver around preventing workplace harassment should be rooted in strong policies and a clearly articulated culture.
Prevention messaging–which can reiterate the importance of treating others with dignity and reinforce that disrespectful conduct will not be tolerated–can be incorporated into a wide range of interactions that might include town hall sessions, lunch and learn sessions, on-demand webinars, FAQs, etc.
Consistent harassment prevention messages which are repeated regularly and embedded, as appropriate, into everything from onboarding, to annual in-service training, to performance management sessions between employees and managers, help to keep workplace harassment prevention–and employees’ roles in support of prevention–top of mind. These resources help to ensure a consistent message—a message that can be conveyed in many ways over a period of time. Not just once a year.
Importantly, training around harassment prevention should be championed by a variety of sources—from the board, to your CEO, to senior leaders, to direct managers, to colleagues and coworkers.
Harassment Prevention Training is Important Because of Results
Finally, the true importance of harassment prevention training is reflected in the impact you measure. You need to give thought initially to the goals you wish to achieve, choose your programming in an effort to achieve those goals, and then measure your results. Are your efforts working? Are they making a difference? In what ways? Which channels are providing the greatest results?
Measuring the impact of harassment prevention training can be done through surveys to monitor employee sentiment and understanding of issues related to the prevention of workplace harassment, as well as through organizational outcomes. For instance: trends in calls to employee hotlines, or reports/complaints to HR. One important consideration here, though, is that as organizational efforts to raise awareness of harassment and reporting are initiated, these reports should be expected to initially increase.
Surveys can focus on employee responses to survey items like: “My work environment is free from harassment,” “I feel respected for my input,” “I feel free to report incidents of harassment without fear of retribution,” etc. Establishing a baseline and monitoring employee sentiment over time can help identify both areas of success and areas of opportunity for improvement.
Harassment prevention training raises awareness across the organization of both what harassment is and the role employees can play in helping to create a safe workplace culture free from harassment. Though compliance and minimal risk are no doubt desirable, you ultimately need to create a supportive workplace culture for your employees that emphasizes prevention.