Preventing harassment: involve the supervisors

Ten years ago, I led a team of about 100 ethics & compliance officers for a large multinational. Whenever one of them reported that “things were quiet” (i.e. they weren’t receiving allegations of wrongdoing to investigate), I would tell them to get invited to various staff meetings and to provide a short training on conflict of interests. This simple exercise was guaranteed to generate work.

In today’s climate, I would advise them to provide a short training on respect in the workplace. To cover issues related to bullying, discrimination, harassment and retaliation. That ought to generate work as well. And I would recommend one additional feature: make sure the group leader is involved in the training. Having her speak up on the importance of treating each other with respect will get employees to think about the culture of the organization as well. They’ll have a better sense for what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Of course, the goal is to create a culture where harassment doesn’t take place. But, at a minimum, we should want a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting harassment when it happens. The first place they’ll look to for comfort is at their immediate chain of command.

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