Creating a Culture Where Bystanders Speak Up

Creating a Culture Where Bystanders Speak Up

The visibility around workplace harassment has increased in the past two years. It is highlighted by the #metoo movement and stories that keep coming out on a regular basis. Now, we can’t kid ourselves that this behavior just started happening, it is just more visible now.

A 2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Task Force, showed that 75% of people who feel harassed or discriminated against at work never report it. According to a 2017 ABC News – Washington Post poll, 54% of women have experienced unwanted sexual harassment at work with 23% saying it involved a superior.

We know as HR professionals that this behavior happens. On top of that, how many times do we hear through an investigation that “everybody knew?” We know that harassment is happening in all industries. And we know the victims of harassment aren’t talking about it. So how do you keep yourself and your employees safe? If you think about your own organization, how do you identify the gaps and establish a culture of we don’t do that here?

It All Comes Back to Culture

The culture of your organization plays a significant role in how harassment issues play out. Culture is the foundation of your company and the employee experience. It encompasses how employees treat each other- the unwritten rules, how power is distributed, as well as how seriously core values and codes of conduct are upheld. There is a saying that your culture is only as good as your worst employee. Let that sink in a minute. Did someone on the team come to mind immediately. What culture are they driving for you?

In terms of workplace harassment, most organizations have adopted policies and procedures. They have implemented some form of required training such as mandatory seminars or digital presentations. However, given the statistics, training has proven ineffective in preventing harassment. In fact, this type of training, emphasizing what not to do, is specifically designed to protect an organization from liability if a lawsuit is ever filed.

It’s a CYA at best and will not deter someone from harassing someone else on your team, period.

On the other hand, thoughtful employee education that stresses what employees should do and training programs tailored to a company’s individual needs can eradicate workplace harassment. But wait. . . didn’t I just say that training wouldn’t work? The specific training I am talking about is what employees should do. The harasser won’t be swayed by a training. But if you implement a training that equips your employees with specific information on what to do if harassment issues occur, you could prevent the behavior in the future. Give your employees surefire ways they can hold each other accountable to the culture you all want. We call this bystander training.

The Role of Bystanders

How bystanders react to inappropriate behavior in the workplace will have a significant effect on the general culture of your organization. They can unfortunately become the witnesses. Equipped with pertinent knowledge and tools, bystanders can be instrumental in stopping inappropriate behavior, or through inaction, can inadvertently enable it to continue, leading to a toxic culture and a disengaged, unproductive and stressed workforce.

We have to help our employees by giving them the tools to stop bad behavior in the moment. That doesn’t mean putting the ownership on the person who is being harassed. It means that everyone feels a sense of ownership of the culture that they want to have at your organization.

In many organizations, especially when a perpetrator of harassment wields significant power, employees who experience or witness misconduct may not know what to do. Effective bystander training equips employees with specific and effective actions to intervene in complex workplace situations. This type of training promotes a stronger sense of workplace community and creates more effective teams based on empathy and understanding of others, thereby supporting efforts that drive inclusion, block bias, and facilitate the responsible use of power.

By creating a culture that empowers and prepares employees to take action, and provides them with multiple avenues for reporting, everyone within an organization will begin to assume responsibility for creating a safe workplace environment. This shared sense of purpose, coupled with strong leadership, serves as a deterrent to harassers even in high level positions, strengthens morale and sets a precedent that misconduct will not be tolerated. Every employee owns your culture. What tools will you give them to make it great?

If you want to learn more about bystander training, please reach out to Bar the Door Consulting.

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