Harassment in the Workplace: Why is it Still Happening in 2022 and What Should You Do About it as a Leader?

You’ve heard and seen it before. Possibly through situations such as these:

  • A new email arrives in your inbox from a co-worker and it contains a crude and derogatory joke at the expense of a minority team member.
  • One employee makes a sexual comment about another employee.
  • A manager verbally lashes out at one of their direct reports for failing to meet a specific quota or deadline.
  • Management uses intimidation, negative criticism, or ostracizing team members as a means to control.
  • An individual is passed over for promotion or advanced opportunities because their manager doesn’t like their gender or race. 

Here’s the problem: it’s 2022 and harassment in the workplace is STILL happening. It’s literally killing people and leaders are still turning a blind eye. Allowing a culture of harassment to breed in your organization is failing as a manager and a leader and it’s the easiest way for your team to self-destruct or fall apart.

Why?

When harassment happens it leaves people in uncomfortable and unsure situations. Some may not recognize it right away or be confused about how to handle the harassing behavior. Others are driven to make impulsive decisions out of fear, which can perpetuate the cycle. Teams break down, employees stop communicating, and performance suffers.

So, what can you do if you witness or experience harassment in your work center? 

To combat this workplace scourge, change and action need to come from the top. It needs to start from the leadership team down and not just with human resources. Harassment claims need to be taken seriously and acted upon quickly and discreetly. 

As a leader or even as an employee, the first thing you can do is educate yourself on WHAT constitutes harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).” Every leader or manager should read the EEOC’s full definition of harassment here.

Being an involved leader who is aware of what harassment includes, as well as, how their specific team interacts with each other, can help to prevent negative situations from occurring.

The next thing you should do if you witness harassment or if an employee reports harassment to you is address the situation as quickly as possible. If you have an HR office, check with them first and follow company guidelines. If not, consider the below approach.

If there is any evidence, do your best to gather it, then pull the harasser aside and address the issue in a calm manner. Be clear and direct that the behavior will not be tolerated and explain how the behavior constitutes harassment. Document, document, document. 

If the behavior continues, up-channel it to company leadership. If the employees work in close contact or quarters, consider virtual or remote options for one or both parties until the issue is resolved. If you feel like you cannot bring the issue up to company leadership or if they are part of the problem, contact the EEOC directly and ask for support. You can find more information about filing a complaint here.

Remember, the best way to combat harassment in the workforce is by creating, regularly updating, and educating all employees about your organization’s workplace harassment policies. It establishes channels of reporting for your team members and clearly defines your process for handling the matter.

Above all, show patience, understanding, and lend a listening ear if such situations arise in your workplace. And remember, a leader cannot tolerate harassment in any form ever.

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