to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #12 — TALKING ABOUT HARASSMENT WON'T CREATE MORE COMPLAINTS
If it does, it means existing problems are not being addressed. Do we minimize crime prevention campaigns for fear that calling attention to crime might create more crime? No. You want employees to deal with harassment and if the only outlet they feel they can use is through a formal complaint, better you get a chance to deal with it yourself than getting a call from a human rights commission or some other organization.
The day after a colleague of mine gave a half-day harassment awareness training session to one of his company's offices, every female employee in that office filed a complaint of sexual harassment. My friend was in a flap, thinking his firm would be upset at him, and that he'd done something wrong. As it turns out, sexual harassment had been going on long before the trainer ever arrived. All he'd done was instill a belief in these women that the company cared, and let them know there were ways of dealing with their problems. They no longer had to suffer in silence. These women clearly needed an outlet; lucky for the company they found an internal one. In this case, because it had been going on for so long and the incidents were so severe, the perpetrator was fired.
Harassment complaints are often the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of both severe and minor incidences go unreported. Contrary to what some people would have you believe, most people don't want to make waves or jeopardize their careers, nor do they expect workplace support. Most also believe that their complaints might lead to a colleague being dismissed.
Howard might think Jane is crude, rude and a downright pig, but he knows Jane has kids and makes a decent contribution to the workplace. He'd like to submit a complaint to their common supervisor, but from having watched a news story or two on harassment cases, he assumes this might get her the boot, and he doesn't want that on his conscience. He just wants her to stop making offending remarks. Of course, if he's lucky enough to have you as a supervisor, you will alert him to the fact that she probably won't be fired and he'll feel comfortable dropping by to talk to you, resolving it that way.
My advice, clearly, is to make harassment or any inappropriate behaviours easy (or easier) to talk about. Make sure everyone knows the realistic consequences, and give every complaint the attention it deserves. Most issues can be handled properly without management even knowing about them; it's just a matter of making people feel more comfortable addressing the issues on their own.
1) Don't let the H word scare people - as it shouldn't. If people never want to say they've been harassed, but they want to clear things up, no problem. However, if someone does want to call an incident of harassment, just that - harassment - then don't be afraid to deal with it as stated. The more we talk the truth, the easier it is to deal with it.
2) Have informal discussions about harassment- and it won't seem weird when you have to deal with it. Often people only bring up harassment issues when something has gone wrong. If you broach the subject at the occasional meeting, it won't seem weird when you have to address it after an incident - in fact it might seem like
more of a review.
3) Use issues in the news - because it is stuffed full of harassment and human rights incidents. Pick something from the morning's paper or e-news source that captures your attention and ask what people think about it, or how they would address it better than what you know from the article.