Few people look forward to anti-harassment training. In fact, many dread or resent it. As the boss, it’s your responsibility to protect your employees and customers. Successful training requires you to understand four common types of resistant employees:
• Some employees don’t understand how anti-harassment training applies to them. Let’s come up with a persona to represent this kind of employee. We will collectively refer to them as Alex.
• Others decry harassment, but question why anyone would need exhaustive, hours-long education about it. Let’s call this kind of employee Bill.
• Still others must contend with the stress of reliving their own unpleasant and sometimes traumatic experiences of harassment. Bear in mind that nearly 50% of working women in the U.S. say they have been harassed at work. Let’s call this sort of employee Cat.
• And finally, there are those who have behaved inappropriately toward co-workers, those whose behavior is on the line of improper conduct, and those who seek to minimize and downplay the issue. We’ll call this employee Darren.
Why am I giving names to these employees? Because it’s crucial that we don’t lump them together. For the most part, these individuals are not pro-harassment. They agree that some sort of training should be in place. Most want the same thing: an anti-harassment initiative that’s relevant, compassionate, and doesn’t waste their time.
Where Do We Start?
Well, good news and bad news. The bad news is that no one, not even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), can point to a specific training program and say, “This works.”
The good news? We know what leaders in the field recommend, and we know what drives engagement, increases retention, and ensures compliance.
As the EEOC’s guidance states, “Compliance training that teaches employees what conduct is not acceptable in the workplace should not be a canned, ‘one-size-fits-all’ training.” With that in mind, let’s consider how an organization could design an anti-harassment training program for each of these personas:
Alex doesn’t know why she has to learn about harassment in the workplace. She’s never seen it occur, nor has she heard any stories from her co-workers — certainly nothing that compares to the obvious name-calling, groping, or crude jokes shown in the 25-year-old harassment video her manager made her watch. Alex needs training that emphasizes the legal definition of harassment. It must provide not just obvious scenarios but real-world examples.
Bill is appalled and disgusted by workplace harassment. He does not tolerate inappropriate behavior. He won’t hesitate to confront anyone who treats his co-workers disrespectfully. But Bill also can’t stand people who waste his time. Yet despite Bill’s presence in the workplace, harassment still occurs.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Bill needs to participate on a deeper level, in more frequent training. Rather than a four-, six- or eight-hour offsite, anti-harassment training that’s built into a larger framework may reduce Bill’s resistance. He needs to understand that reporting harassment is part of his employment agreement.
Cat’s background significantly differs from Alex’s and Bill’s. She has experienced harassment in the form of unwanted sexual advances. She’s had names and racial slurs thrown her way.
But Cat isn’t convinced anti-harassment initiatives lead to meaningful change. To her, the training feels cursory, the depictions of perpetrators cartoonish, the policy language hollow. After training, she returns to work demoralized, concerned that her co-workers will take harassment even less seriously now.
What Cat needs from her employer is training that emphasizes action, and assurance that an anti-harassment initiative is part of a commitment to a culture where everyone feels safe and respected. Cat should know what to do when she witnesses harassment: how she can de-escalate conflict, protect co-workers, and help people address inappropriate tendencies.
And then there’s Darren. We can classify him through his actions and others’ perceptions as someone who believes he can get away with harassment. Perhaps he’s been warned or disciplined for making insensitive comments, sending co-workers inappropriate messages, or physically intimidating or touching others without their consent.
Some Darrens may be unaware of how their behavior affects others. They may assume certain forms of harassment are “normal” or otherwise acceptable. For these individuals, the EEOC recommends workplace civility training.
Unfortunately, people who knowingly harass others can’t always be trained out of their behavior. The onus to stop harassment falls not only on perpetrators and victims, but those nearby. Beyond zero-tolerance policies, employers should consider bystander training. Bystander training teaches employees to recognize problematic behaviors, equips them with resources, and impels them to take action.
Remember, training is one piece of a comprehensive anti-workplace harassment initiative. Develop a comprehensive harassment prevention initiative that harnesses technology, best practices, and the concerted efforts of your workforce to maintain a harassment-free workplace.
Kynzie Sims is an attorney and certified compliance and ethics professional who serves as legal content product manager for Compli.