Picture this: A co-worker is harassing you at work. You’ve tried to bring it up to your boss,but he’s super busy and you really don’t want to sound like a whiner. The person is making you miserable and it’s hard to focus on your work. In fact, you dread going to work in the morning because you know there’s going to be more drama when you get there. You can’t sleep and you’re irritable when you get home at the end of the day. What do you do?
Ever seen this happen? Ever been part of it? If you haven’t, you probably haven’t been in the workplace very long. This type of behavior is more common than we would like to think it is.
According to a poll completed by ABC News/Washington Post: One in four women and one in ten men has experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Another disturbing part of the poll is: “Among those who’ve experienced harassment but did not report it, four in ten were either concerned about the consequences of making a report, or didn’t think it would do any good.”
When these situations happen, ask yourself these questions: How motivated is that employee going to be to do a great job? If this person gets up in the morning with a cold, how likely are they to drag themself in to work or will they use it as a reason to stay home? Finally, if another job opportunity comes along, are they going to stay in that environment or make a beeline for the door?
I dealt with a situation previously where a group of employees reported that their supervisor had been sexually harassing them for years. The management team was shocked because there had never been any hint that a problem was occurring. When asked why they hadn’t said anything, they stated that they feared their direct supervisor would retaliate. So, even though they knew and trusted the company leadership, they never spoke up about the problem.
Here’s what you can do to make certain that harassing situations are addressed in your organization and that you have a solid process in place if ever challenged:
- Have solid anti-harassment and non-retaliation policies in place so all members of your organization know what to do if they are a victim or witness harassing behaviors.
- Document the policies and have multiple means of reporting if an issue occurs.
- Don’t be offended if an employee approaches a leader in a different area because they are more comfortable discussing the matter with that person rather than the leader in their area. The key is having the issue communicated so it can be dealt with timely.
- Train all those with supervisory responsibilities on what they are required to do in these types of situations. Also train all staff members to recognize and know when to report harassing behaviors.
- Make certain that you are truly open and available to listen to employees’ concerns.
- When there is a complaint, use that situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness with which you deal with these issues.
- Encourage others to report situations that they observe. It may be easier for them to report an issue than it is for the person who is being harassed.
We’d all like to think we know what’s going on with our employees, but the reality is we rarely do. It takes a high level of trust for an employee to share something this difficult – and even if they trust you, it’s still perceived as embarrassing and humiliating to have to make a complaint. Anything you can do to make the process more comfortable is a step in the right direction.
As we see the local job market for skilled positions continue to tighten, organizations can’t afford to lose employees because they’re being mistreated. Employers also don’t want to develop a reputation in the community as being an organization that mistreats people. That’s not going to help broaden anyone’s applicant pool!