Harassment training doesn’t work and what leaders should do instead


Let’s face it, no one expects that a mandated harassment training program will actually change employee behavior in the workplace or team dynamics. Despite 30 years of company-sponsored harassment training, we still have about the same number of training sessions harassment claims each year. Ironically, a year before the #MeToo movement, the US government commissioned a task force to investigate whether training is even effective in preventing workplace harassment. the study completed that harassment training alone is not effective and that to be effective it must be part of a holistic inclusive culture strategy.

In its current form, harassment training has become an annual or biennial program for most organizations, often decoupled from an integrated culture strategy and adding no value to team dynamics. Worse still, training has been reduced to an outright joke in many circles, as illustrated in a the recent Saturday Night Live (SNL) parody.. Simply put, harassment training alone is not enough.

Harassment training does not prevent harassment. That makes

A study from 2021 The study, conducted by workplace scholar Joan Williams and her team at UC Hastings College of Law in collaboration with workplace culture platform Emtrain, shows why harassment training alone is not effective. Evidence from more than 20,000 employees showed that the real reason for reports of harassment and bias was not whether training had taken place. It was about whether there was a real sense of inclusion among the staff. The research report found that with less inclusion, there are more reports of harassment and bias.

When there is a lack of inclusion, it means there are weak social connections between employees, which creates more potential for misunderstandings and conflicts among employees. The weak social connections also mean there is less tolerance for misunderstandings and a tendency to assume bad intentions rather than viewing a situation as just a simple misunderstanding. Consider the case of the stolen Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

As an employment attorney, I have conducted more than 1,000 workplace harassment investigations. In one case, a black employee filed a complaint against his white colleagues after someone ate a pint of his Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from the shared office refrigerator. This incident followed times when the white co-workers would tease the black co-worker about his sneakers and several times when the white co-workers would not invite the black co-worker to lunch. The theft of Ben & Jerry’s was the last straw.

Was this situation rude? Yes. Did your colleagues lack empathy and understanding? Yes. Did the complainant feel left out and rubbed the wrong way? Yes. Could that also have been a misunderstanding? Absolutely. However, since the black employee had already experienced a lack of inclusion, the theft of Ben & Jerry’s appeared to be another example. So he filed a complaint.

You see, the vast majority of allegations of harassment don’t reflect bad actors of the Harvey Weinstein type, who are primarily rulers who abuse their authority for their own sexual gain. Instead, they reflect situations in which people are mindless in dealing with their peers’ sensitivities, they are not inclusive, and they say or do something that a colleague finds offensive. The colleague then begins to feel uncomfortable with the team dynamic and feels powerless to change the situation. No amount of harassment training alone will prevent complaints if workers do not feel they are in an inclusive environment.

3 ways to prevent harassment

The best way to foster an inclusive workplace and actually prevent claims of harassment is through coordination, measurement and training.

Coordination. Organizations can stand behind their commitment to inclusion by synchronizing their approaches, metrics and actions across the departments tasked with solving these issues. Bring together teams on employee relations, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement and harassment.

Measurement. You can’t fix what you can’t measure. We need to measure the nature of attitudes and interactions between people. This is because employees regularly pulse with questions about their perception of the environment, such as:

  • do i feel heard
  • Do I feel valued?
  • Do my colleagues appreciate personal differences?
  • Am I comfortable saying “no” to my manager?
  • Does my manager address concerns I raise?

By regularly pulsing employee perceptions of the workplace, it’s possible to identify which teams employees may not feel like they belong to or feel unappreciated. Leaders who take this approach have a much better chance of spotting growing tensions among employees and are better equipped to reverse this dynamic In front someone files a complaint.

Training. Consistent, intelligent, bite-sized, and engaging training provides the positive reinforcement needed to learn inclusion skills. But this type of training cannot be done in a bubble. This must be done in conjunction with other anti-harassment and diversity efforts.

Harassment training has a bad reputation. And rightly so. Most harassment training alone does little more than meet a government requirement. But coupled with a data-driven and conscious approach to measuring and improving inclusion, leaders stand a much better chance of reducing allegations of harassment, increasing healthy team dynamics, while meeting regulatory requirements.

Janine Yancey is the founder and CEO of Emtrain. Harassment training doesn’t work and what leaders should do instead


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