Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Workplace – Training for Change

Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue that continues to be reported by employees each year to the EEOC. The property management industry is not immune. However, the EEOC recognizes the fact that the majority of sexual harassment incidents that occur often go on unreported. This quote from their report on Sexual Harassment in Our Nation’s Workplaces is particularly compelling: “One study cited in the report found that 90% of individuals who say they have experienced harassment never take formal action against the harassment, such as filing a charge or a complaint.”

Chew on that for a moment. 90% DO NOT report the sexual harassment incident.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – The Reality

Statistically speaking, women have been the focus in the media when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. In a time of the #MeToo movement, the spotlight has been on women who have been targets of men in power. Although women tend to be the “face” AND the majority of those harassed at work, there has been a shift in the last few decades in complaints coming from men. 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sexual harassment report, statistics show that in 2021 over 16% of the complaints filed were from men. That means that nearly 1 in 5 of all sexual harassment complaints is from males. There is no way to determine how many cases actually occurred because men often do not report the incidents.  

We cannot ignore the fact that women by far make up the vast majority of all people that are victimized by sexual harassment. This article is not just about stats. It’s about action and best practices. Many organizations and property management companies continue to pave the way for awareness on this topic in order for leaders of all sorts to make changes.   

So, where does that leave us? For anyone who has a role in their learning & development, training, and/or human resources department, you have a unique opportunity to facilitate a culture of acceptance and demonstrate that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. We are going to address this later in this article but for a moment, let’s focus on the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace.

How Does Sexual Harassment Affect the Workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can have a devastating effect. There continues to be awareness of how this affects the victim directly. The emotional and mental effect it has is without dispute.  NPR posted an excellent article on sexual harassment and the health repercussions for women. Be sure to check that article out! 

However, it also has an effect in many areas of the workplace environment. Here is a list of just a few:

  • Employee productivity
  • Employee mental health
  • Recruiting, hiring, and retention
  • Company culture
  • Company bottom line

Employee Productivity 

The linked article above speaks for itself on the impact sexual harassment has on mental health. So it is safe to say that dealing with mental health challenges will affect an employee’s productivity. How does this manifest itself? 

A person pouring water from a hose on a sidewalk
Just like pouring water finds all the cracks, so does workplace negativity caused by sexual harassment.

You may see an employee’s tardiness and absenteeism go up. Their overall productivity will go down. Their distraction level is up. The end result is the overall feeling of “I HATE MY JOB!” and “WHY AM I HERE?”

Now let’s take this from another angle. One employee is sexually harassed, and five employees witness it. It’s like pouring water on the sidewalk. It finds all of the cracks and disperses that negativity across the company. This leads to the next challenge.

Employee Mental Health

I am glad we took a moment on who matters most when discussing sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s about the PEOPLE! When you have a heart, this will affect you the most. No one should ever have to work in that type of environment.

As was mentioned earlier in this article, there will be a monumental effect on the mental health of the employee who has been sexually harassed. Now how does this affect any employees who have observed this behavior?  

Let’s head back to my water on the sidewalk illustration. What does water do when it comes in contact with any substance? It erodes the substance. Now take that visual and apply it to your employee’s mental health. Get the picture?  

Water from a hose begins to break down the foundation of a sidwalk illustrating the effect sexual harassment has in the workplace
Just like water erodes a sidewalk, sexual harassment takes a toll on the mental health of staff.

However, we do need to take a moment and discuss how sexual harassment prevention from a company perspective affects the bottom line.

Let’s discuss.

Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention

If you want data on the challenges of hiring and retention, you definitely need to check out our friends over at Swift Bunny. They wrote an article about employee retention that you should definitely read.  

The article highlights some of the standard reasons why employees leave their place of employment. Too much work, poor communication, etc. Going back to my water on the sidewalk illustration, I would compare those erosive reasons to pouring water from a hose onto your figurative sidewalk. Dealing with sexual harassment within the workplace is more like having Niagara Falls interact with your sidewalk.  It can be absolutely devastating.  

Niagara Falls pouring on a sidewalk showing the effects that sexual harassment has in the workplace
The devastating effects of workplace sexual harassment can be likened to the power of Niagara Falls.

So suffice it to say that your recruiting, hiring, and employee retention efforts will be greatly hampered. In any erosive situation, it is critical to address prevention. With any type of building materials, wise construction personnel are very much interested in the level of protection the materials have. This, of course, would include our figurative sidewalk.  What is that protection? Sexual harassment prevention training. This helps protect your infrastructure, which is your people. More on that later.

Company Culture

I absolutely love this quote from Swift Bunny’s article regarding company culture

“Spend your time and energy on strengthening relationships among coworkers; giving team members maximum exposure to your company’s inspiring leaders; and enhancing their skills and abilities, so they feel like they are true experts in their field. Also, be mindful of the drivers of discontent.”

Isn’t that an incredible set of statements?  If you have found yourself in a situation where someone in your property management company has been sexually harassed, you will need to do a lot of damage control. Whatever company culture you had is now at risk.  Time to put on those work boots and jump into some massive erosion and damage control. Make sure your company has a voice about how it is dealing with the incident and what measures are being taken. Be transparent. Communicate well. Implement immediately.  

Even with the best policies and procedures, incidents will happen. Make sure your company is on a good foundation. If there is strength at its core, it can survive the Niagara Falls effect of a sexual harassment allegation and make sure the victim is provided all the help they need.

Company Bottom Line

The cost of sexual harassment allegations and filings is staggering. In 2021 the EOCC reported that over 61 million dollars were awarded in monetary benefits in 2021. This does not include all of the legal fees that would also be associated with such court cases.

So now take a moment and imagine you are at the top of Niagara Falls. It’s pouring down on your sidewalk, and you are up there with your barrel of money, dumping it out into the Falls and watching it all wash away.  

Money falling over Niagara Falls showing the loss of revenue that a company experiences due to sexual harassment
By not addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, you are at a greater risk of financial loss.

Not a pretty visual. In the end, that is the outcome. By not addressing the potential that sexual harassment allegations will have on your people and your company, this is the potential outcome you have to look forward to.

So we come back around to how to mitigate this from happening. What can you do to protect your people and your company?  How can your property management company take the lead in sexual harassment prevention?

One key way is through sexual harassment prevention training. Another is by having solid policies and procedures in place.  Let’s discuss them both.

Sexual Harassment Prevention – Policies and Procedures

As far as policies go, they should be adjusted so that there are no stereotypes in your policies. The wording needs to cover all genders. So-called “locker room” behavior, inappropriate jokes, and of course, sex in return for some sort of promotion or the like are simply not acceptable for all genders. No matter your gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, you can be both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual harassment.

Adjusting your policies is extremely important because if litigation is leveraged against a company, that is certainly one of the areas that are targeted as proof one way or another.

It’s great to have policies in effect, but what if the employees don’t know about them? This is why it’s vital to be sure that your employees are aware of the policies and can have access to them at any time. How you do this is up to you. It could be a printed employee handbook, a digital document, on a poster in a breakroom, discussed in employee orientation, or a combination of all of these. Just be sure that your employees are aware of the policies in place.

Sexual Harassment Prevention – Employee Training

And that leads us to effective training. An interesting article on Big Law Big Business emphasizes that your policies may not be worth the paper they’re printed on if training is not involved. Employees must be trained to know: what sexual harassment is, what to do if they are harassed, what to do if they witness harassment, how retaliation works and how to avoid it, and how to steer clear of being the instigator of harassment in the workplace. This applies to everyone—no matter their gender—especially (but not limited to) in the case of a supervisor and a subordinate. 

Enforcement is key in rounding out the anti-harassment culture of your company. If an employee doesn’t feel they can safely report harassment, all the policies in the world will not protect you or your employees. This means that it may be a good idea to have multiple persons available to receive and investigate harassment complaints so that individuals of any gender or sexual orientation will be able to report to someone with whom they feel comfortable.

What are the benefits of preventing workplace harassment?

Earlier in this article, we highlighted what is affected when sexual harassment takes place.  When prevention methods are in place, the desired outcome is realized.  A company can expect that they will see:

  • Better employee productivity
  • Better employee mental health
  • Better recruiting, hiring, and retention
  • Better company culture
  • Better company bottom line

Sexual harassment prevention training, solid policies, and leading by example are the keys to success when addressing this topic. There can be no sweeping of this topic under the rug. Ignorance is not an excuse. Be proactive, and you will avoid having to be reactive. This is a recipe for success.