How Big of An Issue Is Sexual Harassment On The Job?

Sexual harassment at work has been getting a lot of attention in the past year.  As a result it has been a topic of conversation not only with clients, but also at social events. I recently struck up a conversation with someone in line for coffee who turned out to be an executive with a Fortune 500 company.  The conversation turned to the news…and ultimately to the issue of sexual harassment and sexual conduct at work. 

“How big of an issue is sexual harassment, really?” was his question. 

It’s significant.

30.4% of all claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2017 involved claims of sex harassment and discrimination.  In reality only a fraction of the incidents of harassment and discrimination based on sex make it to the EEOC.  Thankfully many of them will be resolved at the organizational level and the employee will not have any reason to file with the EEOC.  Unfortunately, many incidents of harassment at work go unresolved or unreported and the affected employees either continue to suffer through the harassment and discrimination or exit the organization without explanation.

Even if the organization does not immediately face a lawsuit or action from the EEOC, sexual harassment on the job is expensive.  It keeps employees from being able to perform at their highest levels thereby costing the organization in productivity, innovation, customer service, etc. Sexual harassment at work results in higher absenteeism and ultimately higher turnover.  And here’s the worst part – the turnover isn’t the offender who has been allowed to get away with bad behavior. The employees who exit are high performers and high achievers who will easily get work elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the employee who is allowed to harass, discriminate, and bully … that person isn’t going anywhere on their own.

Sexual harassment, in comparison to other employee engagement issues can be particularly critical not only because of the legal implication, but to the rippling and residual employee relations issues.

All employees and managers must know what constitutes sexual harassment, and they need to  be clear about their own role and responsibility, the importance of bystander intervention, how to respond to a situation involving sexual harassment appropriately and effectively, and who to report the incident/s to. 

Compliance training is important – and sexual harassment training is required in a growing number of states and municipalities.  But “that’s what the policy says – sign here to document your participation” has never been the driving force of change. 

Training on sexual harassment and discrimination needs to be interactive, and fun (ye, fun) in order to transfer the knowledge. 

While it’s important (and legally required in some areas) that harassment prevention training include definition of terms, the real power of facilitated harassment prevention training is in the dialogue, the conversation with employees, and ability to address real life scenarios and walk participants through the nuances of building a harassment free workplace.

If you have not yet started hosting facilitated discussions with someone with expertise in harassment prevention, if you have not yet offered interactive, engaging, and fun training on harassment prevention for your workforce – we should talk – and soon.  It’s costing your organization a lot of money to do nothing.