Workplace Harassment Hurts Your Employees, Your Brand, and You

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While generational shifts in the workplace and technological innovations in business practices have changed corporate cultures dramatically, some ugly elements still trouble many companies’ workplace environments. Sexual harassment and bullying are startlingly common across industries, and in many cases, efforts to stomp them out have been lackluster at best.

Failing to implement anti-harassment policies — and more importantly, act on those policies when necessary — not only leaves employees unsafe, but it also does irreparable damage to a company’s brand and recruitment/retention efforts. In a a recent survey from recruiting technology firm Jobvite, 68 percent of respondents said they would think about leaving their job if harassed/bullied. Sixty-six percent would actively pursue a new job if harassed/bullied, and 48 percent would leave a company without another job lined up if harassed/bullied.

“The biggest change we’ve seen in the wake of the #MeToo movement is increased awareness around these long-overlooked issues,” says Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite. “More company leaders are putting harassment front and center, asking what they can do to end the culture of silence and engaging in discussions about how their companies can foster safer working environments. However, there is still room for growth in how business leaders model this behavior.”

A Culture of Fear

Left unchecked, aggressive behaviors such as bullying and harassment will only get worse as violators continue to test the limits of what they can get away with. It’s crucial for executives and HR personnel to implement and enforce clear policies surrounding behaviors that are unacceptable in the workplace, partly because employees don’t always know what does and doesn’t constitute bullying.

“Unlike the schoolyard, office bullies tend to be less overt, instead opting for more subtle methods, which makes it tough for employees to know whether or not they should report incidents,” Bitte says. “Without clear legal policies, it can be more difficult for workers to know what constitutes bullying.”

HR must clearly define workplace bullying and harassment so that all employees can accurately identify it when it occurs. Employees should also be educated on their options for responding to bullying, whether those be anonymous reporting channels, bystander intervention techniques, or other methods for responding to and ending workplace harassment.

Victims of harassment are often afraid to report their experiences for fear of repercussions. It is up to executives and HR personnel to make workers aware of reporting methods and to make sure that negative workplace behavior doesn’t go unaddressed. In addition, workers must also know how to report harassment and bullying when they come from managers or supervisors.

“The most important step HR can take to ensure a safe reporting environment is confidentiality throughout the process,” Bitte says. “HR departments must also provide multiple avenues for employees to report instances of harassment — including anonymous channels or digital forms of reporting — and educate staff about the existence of those channels and how to use them.”

Harassment and Your Brand

Ignoring workplace harassment puts your employees in danger — and no employee wants to work in a dangerous environment. According to Jobvite’s survey, 66 percent of workers would actively pursue a new job after experiencing harassment.

Furthermore, we live in the days of Glassdoor and LinkedIn and Yelp. Companies that turn a blind eye to workplace harassment will inevitably be outed for their lackluster harassment policies online. Job seekers check out companies on these sites before ever applying, and if they see a string of reviews describing harassment and bullying without repercussions for the harassers, top talent will simply move on to the next opportunity.

Employers have a choice before them: Tackle workplace harassment head on to keep employees safe, or pretend the issue isn’t serious and damage their recruiting and retention efforts — not to mention all the damage unchecked harassment causes those who experience it.

“Companies today can lead on these issues,” Bitte says. “[They can] show they truly care about their employees and are committed to fostering a safe, non-hostile work environment through continued education and the decisions they make around harassment.”

Read more in Harassment

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.