What can leaders do to prevent workplace harassment?
Here are three tips to cultivate a safe work environment for employees.
Workplace harassment refers to acts carried out by individuals that cause distress or alarm to others in the working environment. When these actions occur, it can lead to a toxic workplace culture which will hurt both business productivity and employee morale. Some management teams may delay in dealing with bad behaviours that could snowball into harassment, as they may not recognise the seriousness of the situation or may be reluctant to draw more attention to an already sensitive and difficult situation. However, it is crucial to call out such errant actions, and for the leadership to play a key role in cultivating a safe workplace. Senior management should set the tone by raising their own awareness of workplace harassment and establishing a system for transparency and accountability.
So how should leaders stamp out workplace harassment?
Recognise Less Visible Forms of Harrassment
While being on the ground is useful for assessing potential signs of harassment, overt actions are not the only ones capable of causing harm. For example, cyberbullying is one such form of harassment that may be unintentionally enabled in the workplace, through the increased use of technology tools. Companies should note that while these modes of communication increase the efficiency of internal communications, online channels such as social media and messaging platforms and even emails can be used to embarrass or insult an individual on.
Employers should be aware that such behind-the-scenes harassment poses a real threat to employees. The impact is no less severe than if a person is physically targeted, as cyberbullying can result in mental and emotional scars for the individual.
Taking note of such incidents means playing an active role and listening to employee concerns seriously. Harassment can happen to anyone – men and women can perpetuate it, and supervisors or colleagues can be offenders.
Provide and Promote Reporting Channels
Rather than risk having disgruntled employees air their grievances on public forums, empower them by setting up reporting channels for them to surface issues. These may include providing an anonymous whistleblowing hotline or platform, assigning a human resource team to look into grievances that arise, or engaging a qualified neutral party as an impartial investigator.
Employers should raise awareness of these channels once they are in place. This can be done through notices in the office, email reminders and during the onboarding process for new hires. By giving employees the means to report complaints – and an assurance that they will be looked into – the management is signaling their commitment to eradicating workplace harassment.
Adopt a Zero-Tolerance Stance
But prevention is better than cure. Leaders should keep their eyes peeled to identify and evaluate any risk of harassment to ensure a safe, healthy and harmonious workplace. Aside from implementing various reporting and response procedures, they should also develop a harassment prevention policy and provide information and training on workplace harassment. This zero-tolerance stance will assure employees that they will be protected.
Employers do not just have a moral responsibility to tackle workplace harassment but also a legal one. Companies could also face reputational damage, with recent cases reported in the media highlighting more instances of harassment at worki.
By reducing the likelihood of workplace harassment, employers are supporting a healthy work environment that allows everyone to thrive.