What’s the best approach to tackling workplace harassment?

Preventing harassment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace needs to be high on the agenda list and every incident addressed. But what is the best approach to bringing perpetrators to account?

Should they be dismissed after a first offence? One strike and you’re out – chased out by the rest of the team brandishing pitch forks?

Should they be made an example of? Put in the stocks in the foyer for passing employees to throw rotten fruit and vegetables?

Should they be counselled? They’ve obviously got some deep-rooted mummy issues, right?

Should they be given a slap on the wrist and told “now don’t do that again”? They have exceeded their sales targets for the past five years after all, it would a shame to lose them.

I suggest the answer is no to all of the above.

A heavy-handed, gently-does-it or head-in-the-sand approach are all counterproductive. They do not resolve the issue. Neither does a “shame to change” approach – think attempts to tackle the UK’s obesity epidemic – nor a shock tactic/fear factor approach, as seen in anti-smoking campaigns.

We need to engage individuals in order to bring about change.

And you’ve put in the leg work; you’ve cultivated your workplace culture and you’ve understood this process starts at the recruitment stage (hopefully by reading my previous blog, click here if you need a refresher). But how do you go about changing attitudes and changing behaviours when it comes to workplace harassment?

By understanding what drives them.

Power is one, yes, (again, see my blog on the science of power here). And power tends to underpin the most serious and prolific cases of misconduct.

But also apathy, indifference and a real belief in the harmless nature of office banter. So how do we stop our people from engaging and perpetuating this practice?

The key here to solving this apparent Chinese finger trick is to bring the issue itself to light. That is, talking about harassment in the workplace, its effect on others (not just those directly affected) and the organisation’s attitude towards it – change the status quo. And ensure this is followed through by every incident being taken seriously and acted upon.

I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences on how to address perpetrators of workplace harassment. Frank, open and honest conversations are fundamental to our harassment workshops at Tell Jane, so please join in by commenting below.

It’s addressing that is key here.

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