The workplace is as good as a second home. People spend most part of their day there and it needs to be a place where they feel comfortable, safe and secure. As a business owner, you might assume you have created a conducive work environment but do your employees feel the same?
One of the most common occurrences in workplaces is harassment. Be it physical, verbal or sexual – harassment is rampant and reflects a toxic work culture while impacting employee morale and productivity.
Did you know that 99.8% of people who experience sexual harassment at work never file charges? Unfortunately, harassment cases go largely unreported for various reasons – either the victims don’t realise that they have been harassed, are afraid of the repercussions of reporting or resort to self-blame instead.
So, just because you haven’t received any harassment complaints from your employees, certainly does not mean it’s not happening around you. Here are six important measures to take in order to create a harassment-free workplace.
Establish Anti-harassment Policies
You have a policy about everything else in place so why shouldn’t the same should hold true for workplace harassment too? It’s important to first define what falls under harassment, educate employees about their rights and the consequences of going against this policy.
Every employee should be given a copy, made to understand the severity of the issue and know that harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable. Establishing a policy lets you take the best course of action against predators.
With a strong anti-harassment policy in place, the next time someone at work is touched ‘inappropriately’ or is met with sexual advances, they hopefully won’t think twice before reporting it.
Provide Appropriate Training
You have established a strong policy but how do you ensure all your employees take note of it? Will merely circulating a handbook help? Most probably not.
It’s time to translate those words into actions by regularly conducting anti-harassment training programs. Demonstrate what constitutes as harassment via videos or live demos and touch upon its different forms. Keep the training programs interactive, relevant and up to date. You want employees to walk out enlightened and not look at it as just another tick-box exercise.
Most importantly, make sure everyone from an intern to the CEO is part of these training programs irrespective of their work schedules.
Encourage Open Communication
Victims of harassment know how difficult it is to come in terms with what they’ve gone through and speak to someone about their unpleasant experience. It takes immense courage to speak up and not everyone is able to do so.
As the employer, the least you can do is create an environment wherein your employees feel comfortable to share their concerns and grievances. Encourage open dialogues, make weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings mandatory and ensure managers give their full, undivided attention to their team members.
This culture of open communication will make your employees feel valued, heard and cared for, and that is enough to give them confidence to call out harassers if they ever find themselves in such a situation.
Develop an Internal Complaints Process
Say for instance, someone decides to muster the courage and lodge a complaint for harassment – what are the avenues available? How are they supposed to go about it? Who are they supposed to speak to?
If you don’t have an answer to these questions, it’s time to strengthen your internal complaint process. Start with establishing a complaints resolution team. It can be people from the HR team, board members or head of departments. Whatever be the case, make sure there are multiple point of contacts available for employees to reach out to.
Secondly, set clear guidelines as to how employees can report a complaint such as through a dedicated email id, hotline number or meeting the person designated for the same. It’s important to hear the victim out and document every step of the process.
A strong and reliable internal complaints process is one that is unbiased, transparent and maintains confidentiality.
Take Prompt Action
Harassment cases are sensitive and need urgent attention when they are brought into notice. If an employee claims to be harassed in your office premises, you need to take prompt action and not waste time in questioning them or their credibility.
Give the victim your full attention, take note of the details and carry out a detailed investigation. You will come across various cases – some that are easy to confirm while the others that are rather complicated. Irrespective of the case or the people involved, you need to swiftly act upon it and get both parties on the table to look into the matter.
Remember that by delaying, sitting on allegations made or turning a blind eye over them, you are complicit in those harassment cases.
If the allegations made turn out to be true, take strict action against the predator to make sure such an act is not repeated in future.
You might think you are doing everything well but it’s important that the same thought resonates with your employees too as ultimately what matters is what they think of the work culture and how safe they actually feel.
It helps to understand their frame of mind through regular employee feedback surveys solely about workplace safety and harassment. By doing this, you get a fresh perspective, identify loopholes in your company policy and are able to make amendments.
No one thrives in a hostile and toxic work environment. So, use your place responsibly to create a harassment-free culture, one that promotes professionalism and respect and does not harbor any sort of predatory behavior.
Make efforts to treat your employees well, create a safe space for them to work and there is no way they can’t be committed to working for the betterment of your organisation.