The rise of remote work has changed the way employees interact — and not always for the better. When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, despite a decline in in-person contact over the past year, incidents of sexual harassment did not disappear. They just changed form and environment. Sexual harassment in the remote work era is a valid and concerning matter.
More than one in four employees have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior online since the start of COVID-19. This unwelcome behavior has taken place during video calls, via text messages, email or internal chat programs.
When it comes to sexual harassment prevention training, the new work reality needs to be taken into account. And as workplaces have become more fluid and hybrid, companies need to take a different approach to create an anti-harassment culture.
Here are some of the main things to keep in mind when building your sexual harassment training program.
The Perfunctory Approach to Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Work Anymore
The road to making sexual harassment training mandatory seems to be a long one. As of 2021, only 6 of the 50 U.S. states have legal mandates that require employers to provide their employees with sexual harassment training, both in the public and in the private sector. Eleven more states require training for state employees only.
Yet, even in the states where sexual harassment training is mandatory by law, companies approach it as checking another box in order to be compliant. Most simply don’t invest the time to develop a training program that will resonate with the employees of today.
Handling nuances is another weak spot of the current state of sexual harassment training. The lessons tend to be black and white, not addressing the “gray areas” that often appear in everyday life. In many cases, employees themselves may not be so sure if what they just experienced falls under the umbrella of inappropriate behavior (although it may have felt that way to them). This could be solved by using real-life scenarios and examples in sexual harassment training. That way, employees would know how to identify, handle and report these behaviors.
Another way the current state of sexual harassment training is failing employees is by forgetting to account for intersectionality. LGBTQ+ women, for instance, are more likely to experience non-inclusive behaviors in the workplace. A Deloitte survey of 5,000 working women across 10 countries found that LGBTQ+ women were almost four times more likely than other women to experience jokes of a sexual nature.
Yet, when we make sexual harassment training only about heterosexual men behaving inappropriately towards heterosexual women, we miss the chance to address behavioral issues beyond the gender binary and heteronormative framework. Of course, it doesn’t help that some companies have been using the same training video to teach their employees about sexual harassment for the past 20 years or more.
The training content many employees offer is outdated and out of touch with workplace changes and present attitudes towards harassment.
Even worse, in many cases, sexual harassment training is completely non-existent. In a survey conducted by TalentLMS and The Purple Campaign, 25 percent of people were screened out from the survey because their employers had not provided them with any sexual harassment training. This means that one out of four employers does nothing to raise awareness and address the issue of sexual harassment in the work environment.
Today’s Employees Have New Needs They Expect to be Met
As times and situations are changing in this new world of work, employees’ short-term and long-term needs are also shifting. In order for them to feel valued and cared for by their employers, these needs have to be addressed.
So what are these needs? Some have resurfaced in the aftermath of the pandemic: things like the need for flexible working hours or the more practical need for employers to provide remote employees with a stipend to purchase office furniture.
Other needs are more generation-specific. For instance, millennials and Generation Z value workplaces that promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But some needs are being reported across the board; employees of all generations rank “the organization cares about employees’ wellbeing” in their top three criteria. Focusing on team member wellbeing means providing opportunities to thrive and creating a strong company culture that uplifts everyone.
Creating a working environment that’s safe for everyone would be conducive to employee wellbeing.
There Are Many Benefits to Offering Harassment Training to Employees
According to the survey conducted by TalentLMS and The Purple Campaign, sexual harassment training makes employees, both men and women, feel more valued as individuals. They become more productive and are more likely to stay with their company.
But 20 percent of respondents claim they either cannot remember when they received sexual harassment training from their employer or had only received sexual harassment training once since being hired, showing that regular, infrequent or circumstantial sexual harassment training is not enough.
It needs to be a part of your regular employee training program. Human brains are not wired to remember the things they’ve learned for a long time; to retain knowledge, information needs to be repeated and refreshed often. When it comes to establishing positive and respectful behaviors at work, frequent, positive reinforcement is needed.
The responses of the same survey highlight a clear path on how to move forward with anti-harassment training. Employees feel more comfortable receiving their training either from their HR department, an external company or an NGO. Employees need training material that is not outdated and addresses the nuances of what constitutes harassment. That training should be gender-inclusive and focus on awareness and prevention.
Training has an overwhelmingly positive effect in educating employees on the fundamentals of sexual harassment in the workplace. It improves understanding of the type of conduct that is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace. And even though there is still a long way to go in educating employers and employees, over 75 percent of women and 85 percent of men report they feel safer at work after having received training.
Sexual harassment training needs to be a part of every company’s yearly curriculum. As employees start heading back to the office, whether full-time or in a hybrid working capacity, it will make all the difference towards creating a work environment that’s safe for all.
Dimitris Tsingos is the Co-founder and President at Epignosis, the parent company behind TalentLMS and a leader in workplace learning software. Epignosis’s premium yet affordable platforms- eFront, TalentLMS, and TalentCards- have been chosen by hundreds of thousands of companies around the world who want to help their people grow and excel. Dimitris is also the Founder and CEO of Starttech Ventures, the private investor and venture builder where Epignosis was born along with several other tech companies. He holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Crete and an MBA International from the Athens University of Economics and Business. He is a Marshall Memorial Fellow and a Fellow of ‘l'Institut des Hautes Etudes pour l'Innovation et l'Entrepreneuriat (IHEIE)’ of MINES ParisTech as well as a US State Department IVLP Alumnus.
Weekly news and industry insights delivered straight to your inbox.