This is the first in a two-part series. Click on this link to read part two
Before you can answer that, we need to understand the objectives, or expected outcomes, of the training. Is the goal of the training to reduce or prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace? If that is the case, then research indicates it’s not a very good investment.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.” Annual sexual harassment training programs can reduce legal liability by making employees aware of the issue and the company’s anti-harassment policies. But, overall, research indicates these programs have not been effective at changing attitudes or behaviors.
It’s not just sexual harassment. Any type of harassment that creates a “hostile work environment” can cost a business in fines, settlement costs, legal fees, and lost productivity. While these tangible costs are easy to calculate, there are many hidden costs that are just as real, such as damage to a company’s brand and reputation, lost customers, lower employee engagement, employee turnover, cost of hiring replacements, etc. According to the EEOC report, in 2015 they recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging workplace harassment – and these direct costs are “just the tip of the iceberg.” Proactively dealing with the challenge of harassment in a holistic way can save a company money and save the company’s brand and reputation.
As an HR Leader, I have updated company policies on harassment, conducted sexual harassment training, reviewed sexual harassment concerns, and investigated complaints. I have recommended dismissals, as well as other disciplinary actions, for violations of the sexual harassment policy. In each of these cases, the offender had been through the required training and was aware of the company policy. So how did they not know that violating company policy on harassment would get them in trouble? It comes down to their expectation of what would happen if their behavior was found out. In other words, it was related to the organizational culture and the behavioral norms that were accepted or tolerated, regardless of any policy in place.
It’s time to look beyond annual harassment training to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Recent high-profile harassment scandals and the “Me too” movement highlight the fact that harassment in the workplace is a significant problem. For business leaders and HR professionals, it’s time to take a holistic approach to understand and reshape your organization’s culture.
Business leaders and HR professionals must look deeper to understand their organizations’ culture and inspect which behaviors are encouraged, allowed, or just plain tolerated. Often, the behaviors that are prevalent reflect leadership expectations to “get things done” with a sense of urgency, which leads to aggressive behaviors by people in positions of authority. These aggressive behaviors, in turn, create an environment where control and power are the dominant force of motivation. This creates the conditions where harassment is most likely to occur and least likely to be reported.
When you look at the elements of culture as measured by the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) from Human Synergistics International, you find that aggressive behaviors from people in positions of power lead to passive behaviors from people not in power. This creates a situation where people in power feel they have the right and privilege to dominate those not in power. The result is a culture where victims of harassment are afraid to speak out and when they do are often punished or experience other types of retribution. In this type of culture, sexual harassment training will have no impact and most likely will be considered a joke by the participants. The reason is that of the cultural dissidence that exists when corporate policy and training programs say one thing, but the accepted behaviors are something very different.
What's needed is a new approach! A more effective approach is to assess the overall culture with both quantitative and qualitative data to understand what the cultural norms are, map the gaps between the current state culture and the preferred culture, as described both by leaders and employees, and then embark upon a culture change initiative to close those gaps.
Here you’re probably thinking, ok, everyone is jumping on the “change the culture” bandwagon. And you would be correct. In fact, an article in Bloomberg BNA late last year led with the headline, “When Anti-Harassment Policy Isn’t Enough, Fix Corporate Culture.” What I find lacking in this and many similar articles is a clear grasp of what it really takes to change organizational culture. For example, most of the articles I have read that suggest changing culture simple talk about doing more training. That is too simplistic, does not lead to sustainable behavior change and really does not help the people in the trenches charged with creating a harassment free culture.
In my next blog, I will share insights that I have learned from successful culture change initiatives and provide practical tips to consider when starting an organizational culture change initiative; such as the critical success factors necessary to gain buy-in from everyone in the organization, and what it takes to create and sustain a positive organizational culture.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic now, please check out the information in Path Forward to Business Transformation website or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.