Building a Respectful and Harassment-free Work Environment

4 ways to create a safe and conducive workplace for employees.

11 Jun 2021 Articles Workplace harassment Best practices

Harassment-free Workplace

A safe and conducive work environment allows employees to bring their whole selves to work and carry out their work productively. One area that employers can improve on is to ensure that their work environment reflects respect for the individual, by building up the organisation's ability to manage grievances and workplace harassment.

Harassment occurs in different forms and to a different extent, and can take place within and outside the office, such as during business trips, at a client’s office and through online platforms (e.g. email), etc. In some instances, an individual’s behaviour may be construed as harassment even when there is no intention to cause harm, as perpetuators often fail to recognise that his or her behaviour is causing distress to others. 

All employees should be treated with respect at the workplace. Behaviours that are unprofessional and disrespectful, if left unchecked, affect the morale and productivity of the organisation. If such behaviours are left unchecked, they will also damage the organisation’s reputation.

Here are four ways to build a respectful and harassment-free workplace:

1.  Develop and enforce an anti-harassment policy

An effective anti-harassment policy complements an organisation’s grievance handling procedures. It provides employees with information and procedures on preventing and handling workplace harassment, and can include:  

  • A clear statement on zero tolerance for harassment.
  • Management commitment to prevent and respond to harassment.
  • Illustrations and examples of what could constitute workplace harassment.
  • Avenues for reporting, recourse and assistance.
  • Information on investigation and grievance handling processes.

As harassment can happen to anyone in the workplace and can involve supervisors, peers as well as customers, ensure that:

  • The policy is clearly communicated to all employees.
  • The avenues for reporting have a separate mechanism to allow employees to bypass their immediate supervisor and make reports directly to other members of the management as specified, and/or the HR department.
  • There are multiple harassment reporting lines such as anonymous whistle-blowing mechanism to address complainant’s fear of reprisal or discomfort to avoid under-reporting.
  • There is training for HR personnel, as well as managers and supervisors, on how to identify and manage workplace harassment incidents and be mindful not to adopt a dismissive attitude as this could foster a culture of silence. 

2.  Examine and foster a safe and conducive organisational culture

Simply letting employees know that an anti-harassment policy and grievance handling procedure exist is not sufficient, as building a respectful and harassment-free work environment is not a paper exercise. Organisations need to proactively examine their corporate culture and consider if it fosters harassment and unprofessional conduct. For instance,

  • Does your organisation culture condone sexist jokes and remarks that may cause discomfort among co-workers even when the comments are not directed at them?
  • Is the management leading by example? Are their words and actions aligned?
  • Do they condone or even engage in unprofessional behaviours themselves? Are they held accountable for their actions?

This would affect employees’ perception of whether the organisation is authentic and committed to building a respectful workplace.

Consider adopting the following values to guide the way employees at all levels work with customers, with each other and within the organisation:

  • Mutual respect: respect individuals’ personal values and beliefs. 
  • People-centredness: put people at the heart of what we do, and ensure that they do not feel intimidated at work.
  • Empathy: stand up against workplace harassment (and unprofessional conduct) and provide support for fellow colleagues.
  • Cultural inclusion: build awareness of the different cultural norms and be conscious about cultural sensitivities in an increasingly diverse workplace.

3.  Communicate with respect and exercise sensitivity starting from the top

As unique individuals, we tend to perceive and interpret things differently from one another and may be offended by comments or non-verbal gestures that are not intended to offend. Perspective-taking is a positive habit that organisations should cultivate (e.g. how will others perceive my words and actions?) along with encouraging all employees to think before speaking and pause before acting. This could prevent misunderstanding and unhappiness between colleagues and avoid any verbal or non-verbal gestures that may be deemed offensive by the recipient.  

Train leaders to be more self-aware and consider how best to communicate effectively and sensitively in different scenarios, so they can model positive behaviours and call out any behaviours that deviate from organisational core values. For example, instead of yelling at or making disparaging remarks such as “you are hopeless” at employees with sub-par performance, train managers to better communicate their expectations and coach employees to meet these expectations.

4.  Provide opportunities for employees to increase understanding and interaction with each other.

Poor workplace relationships could be a risk factor for negative behaviours such as bullying. In addition, as the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, the lack of cultural understanding could lead to misunderstanding and perceived harassment (e.g. in some cultures, it is a norm to greet people with hugs and kisses).

To increase understanding and facilitate greater teamwork and integration, organisations could create opportunities for employees to interact and organise activities to develop cross-cultural understanding and competencies amongst employees.


If you are experiencing workplace harassment at the workplace, TAFEP’s Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre can provide you with advice and assistance. Visit for more information. 

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