Workplace harassment occurs frequently and globally, yet many managers shy away from discussing it. There are a number of ways that an individual or group of individuals can be harassed in the workplace, and a number of places where it can happen. It is necessary to discuss harassment in every organisation to understand how it happens, why it happens and ways to prevent it.
Workplace harassment defined
Harassment is a very broad term that can include, but is not limited to, discrimination, isolation, sexual advances or mistreatment of employees. Workplaces can be constructive and dynamic places when individuals use their professional opinions; however, they can quickly turn into hostile environments when personal bias and an abuse of power are rife.
If an employee faces continuous offensive behaviours that create a hostile and unsafe work environment, that is harassment. Harassment can occur due many characteristics, such as sex, gender, race, nationality, religion and physical or mental impairment.
Harassment can occur by anyone and to anyone in the workplace at any time. This includes both physical and verbal actions that tend to create the illusion of personal power over others. Physical touching, inappropriate jokes and verbal abuse can all be considered harassment and need to be identified as soon as they occur. Harassment may also include superiors forcing employees to work under the pressure of being fired or demoted, suspended or even left out of certain work gatherings.
It is important to note that harassment does not necessarily need to occur at the workplace. It can also occur at workplace events, webinars and other work communications. Managers must identify the levels of harassment and train employees to understand what the punishments are if harassment occurs.
Workplace harassment affects everyone at the organisation and can create a hostile environment and decrease productivity. Anxiety, panic disorders, high-stress and avoidance behaviours can all occur as a result of harassment and will negatively impact the organisation. Cases of harassment can also result in legal action if managers are not vigilant in protecting their employees through due diligence.
To prevent workplace harassment from occurring, managers should enlist the help of online training and other prevention methods.
If you see something, say something
Treat workplace harassment as a threat on your own organisation. Creating an environment that encourages employees to step forward when they are experiencing harassment or when they see harassment occurring is essential for a safe workplace. Instil a policy of 'if you see something, say something', to prevent harassment.
Training on workplace harassment should cover the following:
- What harassment is
- What sexual harassment is
- Examples of each
- Locations where harassment can occur
- Ways to prevent harassment
- Who to call in the event of workplace harassment
- Regulations regarding harassment and discrimination
Managers should also focus on training for the following levels of intervention.
Firstly, managers should focus on what is creating the hostile work environment. Some of the most common factors that can be fixed include high demands by management, poor stress management and lack of behaviour training.
Developing training for both stress management and behaviour development can help achieve a safer work environment.
Through this level, managers should equip employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to overcome harassment in the unfortunate event that it occurs. Interventions may include conflict management.
Managers should also develop an easily-accessed policy that includes different points of contacts that employees can safely discuss events of harassment. Offering support in a safe environment is one of the key aspects to preventing further harassment.
If harassment does occur in the workplace, managers should work towards improving the unhealthy work environment. Conflict mediation and other methods of relationship building are essential in disputing any further conflict.
- Anderson, K. (2014). Workplace Harassment Training: Why is it important? Training Industry. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/compliance/workplace-harassment-training-why-is-it-important/