Tag Archives: harassment training

Harassment Training Made Short

In the old days, sexual harassment prevention training took a full day, and sometimes even two. I have no idea what took so long, but I remember feeling that somehow I was doing it wrong when I myself offered half day training. Over time, I reduced that to 2.5 hour training and it covered not only sexual but also other forms of workplace harassment. Upon request, I can do it in less: an hour, plus or minus.

Recently, I’ve been reading some articles about what is variously called “bite-sized learning,” “thin sliced training” or “single concept learning.” The idea is that employee training works best, i.e., understanding and retention are best, when lessons are delivered in short (10-15 minute) sessions that focus on a single topic, seek to create one behavior change, and achieve one result.  This is contrasted with bringing in an expert who does a full day of so-called “fire hose” training. Typically, bite-sized sessions are done via video training.

So how might this work if we’re doing anti-harassment training? Here are my ideas for a sequence of four 10-15 minute segments that seem to cover the bases. I may be violating the single subject rule somewhat, but the pieces still seem pretty bite-sized. Also, I think an additional session for managers and supervisors would be necessary; this would cover power imbalance, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and responding to complaints, among other things.

Session 1: The main lesson would be: Workplace harassment is a form of employment discrimination that is illegal under federal, state, and local laws. Illegal workplace harassment includes sexual harassment as well as other forms of harassment based on other “protected classes.” These include: x, y, and z. Everyone is a member of several protected classes. It is harassment if you direct comments or behaviors toward a person because of their protected class status to the point that it creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment for them. It is not only illegal to harass someone, but Employer does not tolerate such harassment in this workplace — by anyone. This includes harassment by co-workers, management and even outside parties who come into the workplace.

Session 2:  Even good people can get in trouble for harassment because it does not matter that you were trying to be friendly, funny, or liked. It also does not matter if your behavior was not bad enough to be illegal. How do you avoid getting in trouble? Just remember two key ideas:

  1. Respect boundaries. You are at work and are expected to act in a professional manner. Imagine an invisible wall around your workplace, within which you’re a respectful, civil and courteous form of yourself. Co-workers, or even managers, may act like they are in a TV workplace, but they are not, nor are you — and equally important, even in a fun, casual workplace the hammer can still drop down on you if you cross the line at the wrong time to the wrong person.
  2. Assume it’s unwelcome.  Hugs, neck rubs, accounts of personal dating mishaps, off color or racial jokes. You may assume they’re welcomed because hey, you’re just a friendly touchy-feely person, you tell a great story, or you’re a member of a minority group too.  Wrong! Even if you think that your behaviors are welcomed, when in doubt, just don’t. Also: be aware that people may pretend that they welcome your comments or behaviors when they do not. Why? They want to avoid confronting or offending you, don’t want to appear uptight, or don’t want to be retaliated against. So they may not say anything to you, but if you cross the line, they will say something to the boss.

Session 3.  A picture is worth a thousand words. This session would include very short dramatizations of all the types of behaviors that can get people in trouble — put in a framework of the concepts set out in the previous two sessions.

Session 4. The final session should briefly address the employer’s EEO and harassment policy (especially, where to go with complaints). It would then cover, through dramatization, what employees can do if another employee is making them uncomfortable. This would range from speaking up (“I know you don’t mean anything by it, but I get uncomfortable when you do X”) to bringing in a co-worker to speak up on the target employee’s behalf, to reporting the problem to the employer.

Voila! The essentials are covered. Now all that’s needed are some theater and visuals.

Of course, this is just one approach. What would be in your four thin slices? ~Amy Stephson

Harassment Prevention Training: The Two Key Takeaways

After conducting more than 250 workplace investigations and presenting dozens of harassment prevention training workshops, I’ve concluded that if employees could understand just two key points, harassment incidents in the workplace – both actual and perceived – would be significantly reduced. 

The reason is that most accused harassers are not bad people: they just don’t get it.  And if they did get it, most of them would not engage in behaviors that lead to harassment complaints against them.  This is true from top to bottom in every organization.  For those with power, the rules apply even more strongly.

So what are these two key points?

First, it is essential to maintain professional boundaries in the workplace at all times.  Workplace boundaries are different than those on the outside.   Work is a place where you perform tasks within a hierarchy in exchange for money.  As such, at its emotional core, work is a serious undertaking and while there, people are sensitive to anything that might threaten their livelihood.  Television shows notwithstanding, work is not a place to play practical jokes, discuss one’s relationship problems and sex life, gossip about others, or mess with people’s sense of self.  You are free to do these things, but it is at your peril: if you cross the line at the wrong time or with the wrong person, you will pay.  

You can be friendly, laugh, and have some fun at work.  Just be sure to remain professional and remember that you’re at work to do a job, not to get your deeper social and emotional needs met. 

Second, you never know if your behaviors are actually welcome.  You may think that Sue likes your hugs or neck massages because she seems to welcome them and doesn’t object.  And after all, you’re just a friendly  “touchy feely” person with no ill intent.  You may think that Sam likes your racist or sexist jokes because he seems to welcome them and doesn’t object.  And aren’t jokes a good way to create a personal bond?

But Sue and Sam may really dislike these behaviors and the impact on them may be very different from your intent.  Or the behaviors may have been welcomed at first, but no longer. Then why don’t they speak up?  They don’t like confrontation, fear ostracism or retribution, don’t want to hurt your feelings, or believe they need to keep you on their side to succeed at work.  At some point, however, Sue and Sam may decide that your behaviors are hurting their ability to do their jobs and it won’t be you they tell.  It will be the boss.  If you’re not sure you should say or do something, don’t.

Of course, harassment prevention training includes other valuable information. (Like bosses should not have personal relationships with subordinates unless they plan to marry them.) If everyone leaves understanding just these two key points, however, the training may actually work.

Did I miss something you think is equally important?  ~Amy Stephson