How to make sure employees feel confident in reporting bullying, harassment and abuse in the workplace.
To tackle any form of unacceptable behaviour in your company, you need to know the truth about what is taking place.
It’s impossible to take the right action if you don’t understand the scale or nature of the problem. Nor can you give people the support they need if they’ve seen or witnessed unacceptable behaviour.
Our recent research report found that 42% of people have either been impacted by or witnessed unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. Even if we can’t see it, this statistic shows it could be happening.
So, what can you do?
The only way to know if bullying, harassment or abuse is taking place is to have it reported. But it often takes more than a great system or process to encourage people who’ve witnessed or experienced it to make a report.
A study in the US found that almost 60% of all misconduct observed in the workplace is never reported. Among the reasons are a fear of retaliation, such as being labeled as a troublemaker; having little faith in the appropriate action being taken; worrying their account of events may not be believed; and the possibility that they’d be asked to recount a traumatic experience over and over again. There’s also evidence that the fear of retaliation increases relative to seniority (so less senior members of the team fear retaliation more, whereas people in positions of power don’t fear this as much, and may even be seen by the rest of the team as being rewarded for their behaviour.)
Imagine if unacceptable behaviour is going unreported in your organisation. People who’ve experienced it may never get the right support, while the perpetrator may do the same to them and others. Or, your employees will simply leave the organisation, which could ruin your reputation. The confidence and mental health of the victims could be severely damaged while your efforts to build a safe and positive workplace could be seriously undermined.
What can you do to empower HR to put people first?
So how can you help your employees to feel confident in making a report? How can you reassure them that not only is their voice important, but it will lead to the appropriate action?
One of the hardest balances to get right is the role of HR within your company. The perception among employees is often that the department is there to protect the company first and people second. This can be damaging when it comes to building trust and confidence required to generate reports.
Empowering HR to put people first can therefore be one of the most important decisions you make as a leader. In cases where senior figures within the business are accused of unacceptable behaviour, it’s vital that HR have the power to investigate fully without fear of blockers or recrimination.
If this people-first approach is noticeable to employees, that could be the encouragement they need to make reports when incidents occur.
The next, and arguably most effective, way of removing blockers is to offer the option for anonymous reporting. The fears we discussed above are instantly overcome as people know there will be no impact on them or their career if they make a report.
While it’s harder to provide the appropriate support to victims or ascertain further details of what has happened, you will be able to identify concerning trends and even repeat offenders and take decisive action to tackle and prevent the problem.
Another important step is to commit to a process and policy that ensures all reports are treated in the strictest of confidence even if someone decides to give their name. The HR team must be given the training, support and protection needed to investigate incidents professionally and respectfully.
Once that process and policy is drawn up, it must be communicated and made accessible to all. That may form part of a campaign to tackle harassment, bullying and abuse. Or it could be a more ‘every day’ piece of communication. Either way, everyone must be aware of how the company handles reports and treats the people involved.
People also need to know they will be believed. That they and the information they share are trusted. Including ‘we believe you’ themed messaging within your communication is a simple but effective way to allay fears.
Finally, it must be evident that action will be taken as a result of submitting a report. People must know their voice is heard and taken seriously.
It must become a priority of the business to weed out unacceptable behaviour and the people who perform it. Nobody deserves to experience bullying, harassment or abuse at work - or in any other aspect of their lives - and companies must take a preventative approach if they’re to make their people feel safe, happy and supported. When people know their information will lead to action, they’ll be more likely to share it with the business.
If you’d like to find out more about how Culture Shift can help you listen out for what’s happening in your organisation, request a demo of our software today.