Harassment in places of work is not something new, but the ways in which employers are trying to prevent it are evolving. How can we keep up with the times and ensure that we are keeping both ourselves and our workers safe? Well, as you can probably imagine, there are a variety of options.
While that is true, I think it is important to note that several states have instituted policies that make sexual harassment training required by law. One such is Illinois. So, if you live there or operate an organization in that state, it is good to keep all of these things in mind. While providing the sessions might be a challenge, particularly in finding ways to make the content engaging, it is both the right thing to do and required.
Why is it a Requirement?
This is a question that I hear a lot, and to some extent I do understand where it is coming from. It might seem quite strict that Illinois requires any employer who has one or more employees to provide this training, compared to other places. However, if we examine the motivations for this Illinois sexual harassment training policy, things do become clearer.
If you have been paying attention to the news in the past few years, you might have noticed that there are more scandals surrounding harassment (particularly sexual harassment, but all forms of it) have been reported on more and more. This is not because it is happening more often, but rather because more victims are willing to come forward. Providing training can help to prevent it from happening, but also create an environment in which employees can report it without taking it to the press.
Can We Make It Engaging?
When I discuss this topic with fellow supervisors or managers, often this is the biggest concern. How can we convince our workers to take the content seriously and not just laugh it off or ignore it? There is no one easy answer, unfortunately, but if we prioritize identification and explanation, that can help. You can see some examples of that on this page: https://www.doi.gov/employees/anti-harassment/definitions.
Something that might help is to utilize common presentation tips. If you are going with a slideshow presentation, make it visually stimulating. Add color, GIFs, or videos to grab the attention of your audience. Do not deliver it in pure monotone and try to make eye contact. These are public speaking basics, but they apply here as well.
Getting into slightly more advanced techniques, do your best to make the content you present interactive. Make small quizzes and provide little prizes for getting them right – something such as a five-minute extension to a break, for example. Incentivizing paying attention and understanding the information provided can make a world of a difference.
What Constitutes as Harassment?
Understanding this concept is the first step, before you try to teach it to anyone else (even if you are outsourcing the course or getting outside assistance in some way). There are three pillars of harassment to keep in mind. These are discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Each has its own warning signs to watch for.
Discrimination is probably the one that is most well-known. You read further on the implications of this in this article. It is essentially the mistreatment or exclusion of a person or group of people based upon factors they cannot control, such as race, gender, sexuality, or other things such as religion.
It is unfortunately one of the most pervasive forms of harassment in businesses and other institutions. That is why I tend to place high priority on it in training sessions.
After that is harassment itself. This can be defined as unwanted actions or conduct towards a person that is because of some of those factors that I listed above. Some common instances are related to race or gender, so be on particular watch for those.
Now, it does not become illegal until it becomes a persistent factor of engaging in an office or other work environment. We should seek to nip this behavior in the bud before it reaches that point. Instituting policies that clearly state you do not tolerate these acts is a critical part of this.
Finally, there is retaliation. These are actions that deter victims from coming forward with their stories or reporting harassment. It could be threats of job loss or something even more sinister, like threats of violence or stalking. If there is fear of retaliation, people are far less likely to report the incident. This unfortunately can lead to much worse happening down the line.
Once you are able to identify and discourage harassing behavior in your business, usually the workspace becomes a more welcoming environment, too!