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Is your company a hotbed of harassment? Maybe; 3 Signs That Your Organization is in the Risky Zone.


By Brynne Humphreys – Vice President of Client Services

The phrase “workplace harassment” carries old-school connotations of Mad Med, creepy bosses, and overt discrimination.  Everyone knows the ‘black and white’ of workplace harassment:  Of course we can’t slap someone on the backside!  Obviously we should never taunt a colleague for being different!  Clearly we would report it if our boss kept asking us out on a date!  Most of us understand these rules, right?  We GET IT.  

Or do we?

True workplace harassment and bullying is much more nuanced, much more complex, and much more common than we think.  And, without the right training and awareness, your company could be swimming in dangerous, grey, harassment waters.  

Here are 3 Signs That  Your Organization Needs Anti-Harassment Training:  

Your company culture prides itself on being “authentic” and “laid back”

Corporate culture is critically important.  It affects employee engagement, retention and productivity.  Within a less conservative culture, more and more grey areas can arise when it comes to harassment.

Discussions about sex, lifestyles, recreational choices, are less taboo in the workplace today…but that doesn’t mean everyone is open to a “TMI” conversation.  Especially if groups of employees tend to fall into the same age range, there can be the assumption that everyone has similar boundaries.  

The obvious (but often overlooked) truth is:  Different people have different comfort levels around discussions of sex, lifestyle, religion, politics etc…especially in the workplace.  Having an awareness of how to balance an authentic culture with respect for others is critical to navigating the grey areas of the workplace.  

Your company Long hours + late nights + short tempers = passion for the work

Do your teams put in long hours?  Of course they do.  Do tempers sometimes flare when we get stressed and feel strongly about something?  Sure, it happens.  And it could be harassment.

Allowing employees to lose their cool on colleagues, managers or subordinates is a risky situation.   How many times have you heard “Oh, Dave snapped for a second – but you know how he is” or “She went OFF on him, but she was really stressed”?  

We make excuses for poor behavior in high stakes situations, and it could be putting the entire organization at risk.  “Losing your cool” can come at a high cost to the company.  We can’t always control how our employees react in high stress situations, but we can control how we intervene and react to hot-headed, aggressive behavior.  Yelling, throwing things, or insulting other team members is a form of harassment – and requires awareness and mindfulness at all levels of the organization.  

Your employees are expected to socialize with clients

Many organizations wine and dine clients and customers.  We have dinners, throw wrap parties, or have meetings over drinks**.  These types of situations can leave your employees (and therefore your company) vulnerable to harassment.  With clients, a power dynamic is in play – we assume that we are supposed to follow the client’s lead and let her/him set boundaries for our interaction.  Add alcohol to the mix, and it can land us squarely in a grey area.

Do your employees have the skills to remove themselves from a client situation?  Do they feel empowered to let a customer know when a situation makes them uncomfortable?  Most employees don’t feel equipped to navigate these nuanced scenarios…and if your company isn’t giving them the skills, you can be held responsible for their vulnerability.  

**A bonus grey area!  Consider your employees who don’t drink, whether for personal, religious or ideological reasons.  Does your organization make space and accommodate these employees (it could go beyond just offering diet soda as an alternative).

These risky zones are everywhere.  They lurk in all human interactions – and we assume your workforce is largely made up of humans (at least for now…we’re watching you, Musk).  

At Second City, we believe in scenario-based education (like this digital short below)  combined with skills-based practice.

We seek to help train workforces towards awareness of behavior and mindfulness of the grey areas.  We can’t ever expect all employees to memorize a list of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ situations or reactions….but we can prepare them to navigate and use quality judgement as new situations arise.  
Also, for the record, we still shouldn’t be slapping anyone on the backside.  Just….don’t.  

ethics and compliance


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