Cultures of ethics, compliance, and accountability all require that employees have a safe place to work and threats to that safety must be addressed both swiftly and effectively. For starters, of course, employees need to not only be trained to recognize harassment in its many forms but also be fully and clearly empowered to respond appropriately to it when it occurs.
Besides a lack of appropriate training, there are five reasons I hear more frequently than others for why folks don’t confront harassment on the job. Each is potentially wildly toxic to your organization and here they are:
- “I’m/they’re just being too sensitive” or its twin “I’m/they’re making something out of nothing.” – To perhaps state the obvious, blaming the victim of harassment is never an appropriate response either managerially or legally. By using this rationalization, you are simultaneously avoiding confronting a destructive force in your workplace and becoming an accessory to the harassment. Are co-workers or other employees sometimes overly sensitive or reactive? Sure. But you need to find a way to deal with that problem without dodging the reality that their complaints about harassment may still actually be well-founded legally, emotionally, or both.
- “They (the perpetrator) are such a good/wise/experienced/caring person, I’m sure this can’t really be happening.” – Plenty of genuinely good, wise, experienced, and otherwise-caring people still do incredibly inappropriate and destructive things. If something looks, sounds, or feels like harassment, it is harassment and needs to be confronted regardless of the stature of the perpetrator.
- “If I endure this, others won’t need to.” – Believing that you ought to ‘take it for the team’ is self-destructive in so many ways that it defies quantification. Employees need to know that – statistically speaking – they are probably not the only victim of another employee’s inappropriate behavior and, even if they were, that would still be one victim too many.
- “Surely this will pass.” – Even if true, avoiding dealing with any type or degree of harassment leaves both the perpetrator and victim(s) with the idea that inappropriate behavior is and will be condoned. The message that sends is potentially irreparable.
- “Confrontation will only lead to retribution.” – This may be the one considerably realistic fear of this bunch but is still no reason to allow harassment to continue. Either your fear is baseless, in which case you’re simply avoiding dealing with the harassment, or your fear is founded in which case you need to deal immediately with why such retribution is possible in your organization. (Not sure how to do that? Contact me and we can talk about it.)
If you find yourself or any of your employees saying – or even thinking – any of the above, remember that inaction in response to complaints or concerns about harassment is, in itself, wildly destructive. Allowing harassment to occur places not only your employees and organization at terrific risk but you as well. After all, if a colleague, coworker, or employee can be harassed without consequences, it can certainly also happen to you as well…