Do They Trust You?

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Harassment training is pointless if this isn’t in place first.

When I conduct harassment prevention training, two things almost always happen. First, we spend a lot of time talking about the difference between harassment, bullying, and behavior employees just don’t like. The second thing that always happens is a discussion of what retaliation is and how fearful both supervisors and non-supervisory staff are of it.

When employees learn that bullying and harassment could look very similar and that the basis for the behavior matters more than the actual behavior, they are shocked. Then, they get angry. Yes, angry, if they can point to many examples of toxic behavior that shouldn’t be acceptable, whether it’s bullying, harassment, or something else. They conclude that the employer just doesn’t give a damn about their daily lived experiences within the organization and resign themselves to cynicism. 

Interestingly (and sadly), after conducting harassment training for one client, I shared with the director of HR that almost every group of employees complained about one particular person. The person said, “We know he’s a bully, but he’s retiring in two years and his team gets results. We’re gonna ride it out.”

After getting clear on what harassment actually is, we move to employees’ rights. Protection from retaliation is one of them. Non-supervisory employees often lean toward believing that nearly everything that happens to them after filing a complaint is retaliation. Conversely, supervisors and leaders focus on, “How do I prove that I am not retaliating when I have to take actions, especially disciplinary actions or make unpopular changes?” Ironically, the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination AND the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases is, in fact, retaliation.

Imagine hating your job, thinking that the leadership team doesn’t care and feeling stuck in that job (especially in orgs with low turnover). Imagine what it’s like to be on a team with a coworker who feels this way. Finally, imagine what it is like to be this person’s supervisor. 

Without a plan to strengthen employee engagement and the culture, harassment prevention training is ONLY check the box training… and potential motivation to find outside counsel. 

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