The Overlooked Benefits of Workplace Harassment Prevention

Natasha Nicholson


October 5, 2023

Workplace Harassment Prevention

According to a survey by Vault Platform, 75% of U.S. office workers have experienced or witnessed some form of workplace misconduct during their working lives. The prevalence of this issue mean that organizations need to prioritize their harassment prevention efforts to better protect their employees and avoid financial or reputational damage. But harassment prevention is more than just a compliance activity—educating employees on harassment prevention can also help organizations build and maintain a more inclusive, vibrant and positive workplace culture. The benefits can be wide-ranging:

  1. Lower levels of misconduct: By establishing parameters for what is and is not acceptable behavior, harassment prevention policies and related education and training provide clarity for employees about how they must conduct themselves in the workplace. According to the EEOC, “Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees may help ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct.”
  2. Minimize financial and legal risks: Consider that workplace misconduct, including harassment, cost the U.S. economy $8.54 billion in one year alone. According to Kevin O'Neill, a principal at employment law firm Littler, policies, education and training can “protect your company from claims for punitive damages,” and provide a “huge element of proof and effectiveness when you have to show that you have done all that you could to prevent and correct the harassment.”
  3. Create a culture of respect, fairness and inclusivity: Beyond simply avoiding incidents of misconduct, harassment prevention and the education that goes with it, is an opportunity to solidify and reinforce a company’s core values, such as being fair, respectful and understanding with each other, being inclusive and fostering a sense of belonging. It is yet another touchpoint where organizations can connect to employees and involve them in creating a more positive work culture that benefits everyone.
  4. Attract and retain employees: According to Pew Research, 57% of employees who quit did so because they felt disrespected. Because harassment prevention is about building greater respect, appreciation and understanding, it helps to build a positive and inclusive culture that both attracts and retains employees. This kind of culture that can make an organization “an employer of choice.” Consider that 80% of respondents in a Deloitte study said that inclusion is important when choosing an employer
  5. Elevate the organization’s reputation (inside and out): With every incident of harassment, an organization’s reputation is diminished and tarnished. Research by UCLA found that a single harassment claim “can be enough to dramatically shape public perception of a company and elicit perceptions of structural unfairness.” Preventing even one instance of harassment could mean protecting your reputation both among employees, while at the same time stemming a wave of criticism from other stakeholders, such as investors, customers and media.
  6. Improve performance, innovation and agility: Studies show that companies with highly engaged employees can attain 21% higher profitability. Harassment prevention is your opportunity to remove barriers that could be interfering with engagement. And it can contribute to greater inclusivity, which can improve team performance by up to 30%, making organizations more innovative and agile. Simply put, when people respect and understand each other, they are better able to connect, collaborate and innovate.
  7. Make your organization more resilient: In times of uncertainty, employees need to work together to develop creative ideas to address challenges. Striving to eliminate harassment is one way to pave the way toward a more united and resilient future for all organizations.

How to Strengthen Harassment Prevention

Harassment prevention is not a check-the-box item that can be handled with minimal effort. To unlock the benefits of harassment prevention, it is important that organizations take the proper approach to not only ensure their programs are effective but that they do not create significant backlash. The following are five key steps organizations need to to consider when developing harassment prevention training:

  1. Enable leaders and managers: According to Stanford University researchers one of the most important steps leaders can take to help reduce harassment is “communicate to employees that preventing it is a high-priority issue for their companies.” But experts acknowledge that communication from leaders alone will not solve the issue—ongoing education and accountability are required.
  2. Ensure an appropriate level of seriousness: When providing harassment prevention training, avoid cringe-inducing educational materials and training with corny scenes, inappropriate “jokes” and cartoonish depictions of situations. Choose training that deals with complex issues in a way that is sensitive and relatable for everyone.
    1. Avoid shaming or blaming any one group: According to Harvard experts, if you start any harassment prevention training by telling a certain group of people that they are the problem, they will get defensive. “Once that happens, they are much less likely to want to be a part of the solution; instead, they will resist,” they said. Training and education that shames, blames and sets people up as either victims or aggressors can actually do more harm than good.
    2. Unite people around bystander intervention: Going beyond traditional harassment prevention, bystander intervention draws on the idea that everyone is in a position to affect a positive work environment and no one is targeted as a harasser. Bystander intervention training provides guidance on how and when to step in to provide support for co-workers when it is needed.
    3. Provide education and training for employees and managers that goes beyond the obvious: Harassment does not come out of nowhere. It might start with “jokes,” slights, barbs or an undercurrent of demeaning comments. Look for education and training that takes a nuanced approach to harassment, and which clarifies the boundaries of misconduct through relatable examples and meaningful interactive exercises. And keep in mind that managers need specific guidance, so you will want to ensure they receive training that is tailored for their needs.

    Natasha Nicholson is director of content marketing at Kantola Training Solutions, an e-learning company focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and harassment prevention training.