Jian Ghomeshi, Liberal MP’s; there has been much in the news these days about workplace sexual harassment. Most employers strive to foster a healthy and supportive work environment. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, the environment may not always be perceived by employees in the way that the employer intends. Or even if it is, circumstances may be such that employees may be hesitant to raise problems they are experiencing at work. When it comes to providing a workplace free from harassment, employers in general (and managers in particular) need to be mindful of providing an environment in which employees feel comfortable to come forward with their concerns. Being aware of reasons why employees may not come forward is important to enable employers/managers to be proactive in addressing these issues beforehand.
An employee who feels he or she is being harassed may not come forward for any number of reasons. This can have a powerful impact on the company’s ability to address inappropriate conduct and/or avoid legal matters. I’ve heard of a few issues that stopped employees from coming forward that were similar to the following;
• Lack of understanding or accessibility to existing(or non-existent) harassment policy
• A culture of intimidation is prevalent within the company or senior leaders.
• Lacking support in how to deal with the issue.
• A colleagues prior complaints were not addressed.
• Power imbalance between the alleged harasser and complainant.
• Fear of retaliation if they come forward.
• Previous adverse experience with an HR department in another company.
• Fear of being labeled a troublemaker or other reputation issues.
• Concerns about personal safety or having to reveal personal issues about themselves or others.
• Cultural differences – it may not acceptable in a particular culture that women/men should bring these issues forward.
• May not want the alleged harasser to get into trouble-they just want the conduct to stop.
Have you ever been in a situation of harassment within the workplace? Does one of the above resonate with you? Or is there another reason why you may not have brought it forward?
Regardless of the possible reasons, being proactive with issues of harassment will benefit all workplaces. Due to confidentiality restrictions, many employees in these situations feel they have no one to turn to. A Conflict, Bullying & Harassment Support Line or an Organizational Ombuds can support employees in these difficult situations. An independent third party can help employees understand their harassment policy, appreciate the impact and effect of their choices moving forward and facilitate the construction of a broader view point. Coaching through these issues develops insight, builds a clearer perspective and supports employees to take the best next step for themselves.
A culture of intimidation and harassing behaviours can lead to many unwanted results, such as loss of good employees, low morale, damage to reputation, and legal liability against the organization and possibly against individual supervisors or managers. Inappropriate conduct at work impacts everyone so let’s provide support to employees to come forward. In doing so, organizations are supporting a healthy work environment in which all employees can feel safe.
The Workplace Fairness Institute works to support organizations to be proactive with harassment and conflict through assessments, Ombuds functions and other services.