By Elizabeth Berg, eLearning Program Manager, Trüpp.

We’ve received variations of this question a lot in recent years. The #MeToo movement, followed by several states passing anti-sexual harassment laws, has made workplace harassment training an important topic for employers and HR professionals alike. Unfortunately, much confusion has developed in the wake of debates over the effectiveness of harassment training, what content should be covered, and how it should be deployed. To complicate matters, many states have established very short timeframes to comply with mandated training requirements. As a result, employers have scrambled to meet deadlines with little time to consider which investment makes the most sense for their organization.

Let’s take a step back for a closer look at the topic of harassment training and unpack some of the recent findings. In the end, a more thoughtful approach will help employers develop anti-harassment programs that strengthen their commitment to a respectful work environment and result in greater productivity and employee engagement.

Why provide harassment training?

Mounting evidence supports that the more emphasis an employer places on facilitating a respectful environment, the less likely they are to have harassment claims.

Savvy employers will take every reasonable measure to protect themselves from preventable claims. Mounting evidence supports that the more emphasis an employer places on facilitating a respectful environment, the less likely they are to have harassment claims. Since a single harassment claim can devastate an organization, the value of anti-harassment training can’t be overstated.

Although harassment is illegal at the federal level, training is not. As a result, some employers may not feel compelled to provide harassment training if their state doesn’t require it. They may ask, “is it worth the time and effort?” The answer, in short, is, YES! There’s a reason states all across the nation are requiring it.

But there are other compelling reasons to offer workplace harassment training besides reducing the risk of a claim. When organizations invest in quality training, they:

  • Showcase the organization’s commitment to a respectful workplace
  • Strengthen loyalty and engagement by showing they value their employees
  • Reduce stress and distractions that negatively impact productivity
  • Establish clear expectations of acceptable and unacceptable behavior
  • Facilitate a respectful, tolerant, and civil workplace that is safe for all employees
  • Empower employees to prevent inappropriate behavior and take action when it occurs
  • Increase the likelihood that complaints will be addressed internally before escalating to an external claim or lawsuit
  • Provide evidence of preventative measures and policies should a claim or lawsuit occur

But not all harassment training is the same. A report by the EEOC found that most harassment training efforts fail as a prevention tool. Why? Because many training programs are “focused on simply avoiding legal liability.” This approach tends to concentrate on the laws themselves, definitions, and a laundry list of things employees should not do. In short, they are focused on checking the box by simply providing knowledge and threatening punishment for noncompliance. But the reality is, harassment is not a knowledge problem; it’s a behavior problem. Any effective training program must focus on content that has the power to change behavior.

What should harassment training include?

Any effective training program must focus on content that has the power to change behavior.

The same EEOC study also concluded, “that training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort”. Their conclusions recommend a proactive approach. Instead of focusing on what not to do, effective training emphasizes what employees should be doing–standing up for themselves, speaking up and protecting others, reporting inappropriate behavior. Training that employs a proactive approach helps employees overcome common barriers, explains how to approach uncomfortable situations, and clearly presents company policies and reporting procedures.

There is additional liability where supervisors and managers are concerned. Effective training for people in positions of authority should provide detailed information about recognizing inappropriate behavior, how to respond in a way that protects both the employee and the organization, and guidance on their role and internal process for addressing such behavior.

Most organizations want to provide training that makes a difference, but there are many options out there. Be wary of cheap and outdated products designed to merely check the box. These trainings often include poorly made dramatizations, cheesy cartoon characters, or text-heavy video slideshows. If the production quality or content is poor, employees will end up focused on critiquing the presentation style or end up zoning out rather than gaining anything from the training.

Instead, look for training that provides detailed information about the approach and what is included. During the evaluation, consider features that:

  • Incorporate modern tools and technologies
  • Fit the organization’s culture, employer brand, and demographics
  • Utilize interactive elements that require engagement
  • Include exams or knowledge checks that ensure comprehension
  • Focus on proactive and respectful behavior
  • Help learners understand acceptable and unacceptable types of behavior
  • Empower employees to take action when inappropriate behavior occurs
  • Provide bystander intervention techniques and examples

What makes harassment training effective?

The centerpiece of an effective harassment training program is leadership buy-in.

One of the key takeaways in the EEOC study is that “to be effective in stopping harassment, such training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort”. What does a holistic training effort look like?

The centerpiece of an effective harassment training program is leadership buy-in. When there is a top-down sense of urgency about preventing harassment, the organization’s culture will reflect it. A holistic training effort will:

  • Provide adequate resources to ensure the effectiveness of harassment prevention efforts
  • Include a clear harassment policy with definitions of unacceptable conduct, a reporting process, assurances of confidentiality, a prompt and thorough investigation procedure, and corrective action follow-through
  • Insist that leadership model a culture of respect where inappropriate behavior is not tolerated
  • Evaluate the organization’s vulnerability, conduct climate surveys to root out potential risk, and take action to minimize them
  • Ensure swift and fair enforcement of the organization’s harassment policies
  • Deploy proactive harassment training that includes company policies and reporting procedures, bystander intervention, and respectful workplace components
  • Repeat training annually and incorporate it into new employee on-boarding procedures
  • Communicate regularly and often about the organization’s commitment to a respectful work environment

Don’t know where to start? We’re here to help. Check out our harassment training options and request a demo.

Discrimination and harassment training from Trupp