I personally find harassment and discrimination to be a very frustrating issue. We all know we shouldn’t do it. It’s intuitive. We learn from a very early age to treat people with kindness and to not discriminate, and yet, every year, companies lose millions of dollars because of it. It seems this type of behavior will always be a problem for organizations, unfortunately. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) recently released their 2013 numbers on discrimination and harassment and in 2013, the EEOC obtained the highest amount of monetary recoveries in agency history, despite the overall number of harassment and discrimination charges decreasing from 2012. We put together this nifty infographic for you with the new EEOC stats. The infographic is pretty but the statistics are anything but. Here are some highlights.
That’s a lot of money and I’m sure those companies could think of better ways to spend it. That figure is up $6.7 million from 2012. Again, we know we are not supposed to behave in a discriminatory or harassing fashion and companies are deploying corporate ethics training on the subject all the time. Is this workplace harassment training just ineffective? Is the message just not getting through? Or do these companies have a problem that goes beyond workplace harassment training and into the fundamental culture of their organizations?
The number one charge was retaliation; with 38,539 charges, that represents 41.1% of charges and is the highest total ever.We have written several pieces on creating and maintaining company cultures that prevent retaliation and the way to do that is to encourage open communication and discourage fear. Cultures that thrive on fear breed misconduct and retaliation. Whatever kind of workplace harassment training your organization chooses, it should be interactive and have a clear anti-retaliation message, so your employees know that not only is discriminatory or harassing behavior not tolerated, but retaliation is not tolerated either. It is simply not acceptable, period.
From a state perspective, I’m sad to say our home state of Georgia didn’t fare to well in the EEOC stats .
Organizations in these states should be taking a close look at their employee Codes of Conduct; when is the last time they were refreshed? Are they interactive and engaging or old printed manuals sitting on a dusty bookshelf? The Code of Conduct is so important; it’s the foundation for the company culture and it’s the place where organizations start to establish for employees the behavior they expect on a daily basis.
Beyond the Code, companies should have a clearly written and easily understandable policy on harassment and discrimination, that not only defines what that type of behavior is, but what the consequences are for engaging in it and step-by-step instructions on what to do if an employee learns of a violation of that policy. And make sure the policy is easy to find! I’m constantly surprised by how many companies think writing up a policy and sticking it 12 nested folders down in a Sharepoint site is a defensible way to operate. It’s not.
Of course you know by now after all my harping on it, the last piece of this part of the puzzle is workplace harassment training and awareness programs. Let me rephrase that; EFFECTIVE workplace harassment training. That means training that is not boring, is not out-of-touch, is not hard to understand and is not completely unrelatable to the people taking the training. At the risk of dating myself, I can remember the first time I had to take harassment and discrimination training and it was in the late 1990s. I was in my mid 20s and with about 30 other employees, I sat in a conference room and watched a video of people that had to have been made in the ‘70s, maybe the early ‘80s. All any of the employees did during the video was laugh at the hairstyles and outfits. I can tell you no employee retained any of that information. I can still see scenes of that video in my memory and all I recall are the crazy outfits. I really, truly don’t remember the message. That is a recipe for disaster.
That’s not to say all video training is bad. Discrimination and harassment training can come in many forms: classroom, online, video or interactive, but either way, it should be engaging to the employees, so they remember the material and apply its principles each day. Simply handing out an updated policy manual to employees and showing an outdated video is not enough.
Use these pieces together: your employee Code of Conduct, policy, and harassment and discrimination training to create a comprehensive awareness program for your employees that is a living part of your organization. This can’t be a “once and done” kind of exercise. By encouraging open communication and showing your commitment to preventing harassment, discrimination and retaliation, you’re promoting a more positive work environment that will benefit every single employee. And you are narrowing the chances that your organization will be part of next year’s EEOC statistics.