Emtrain Blog

A New Day, A New Sexual Harassment Scandal

A new day, a new sexual harassment scandal in the news. It’s clear we are in a watershed moment for the acknowledgement of illegal behavior and real consequences for those who conduct it.

Everyone should be aware, alert and alarmed.  

At Emtrain, our goal is to prevent any sort of sexual misconduct in the first place. We provide modern online training using truly realistic workplace scenes to teach people‘what not to do’ and social polling to collect and share perceptions to help change behaviors and attitudes.

As we’re watching recent news unfold, we’re working as hard as we can to serve as a resource to people who have experienced any sort of inappropriate sexual behavior, and to help companies get a handle on how to reduce harassment incidents and remove harassers from the workplace.

One thing we can’t understand: why aren’t more companies training all of their employees on workplace sexual harassment prevention?

We’ve known for years - and it should be pretty clear to everyone now - that sexual harassment is a major issue in the workplace. We understand how it demoralizes, distracts and demotivates individuals and teams. We’ve experienced it ourselves.

Why aren’t all employees getting educated on which types of actions constitute harassment and which don’t? Aren’t people who are the subject of harassment entitled to know if what happened to them was illegal? Why aren’t we teaching bystanders how to intervene when they observe a problem? Shouldn’t everyone be informed about inappropriate actions so they can stop doing them?

We’re on a mission to help create healthier organizations and curing sexual harassment is at the very top of our list. That’s why we feel so lucky to havePatti Perez as our VP of Workplace Strategy. Patti is the leading expert on sexual harassment prevention, with a unique blend of experience: a career as an employment lawyer, then an HR executive, conducting over 1,200 workplace incident investigations and authoring California’sregulation on sexual harassment prevention training for managers.

‘Training everyone’ is in the national spotlight as the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives both progress legislation to implement mandatory anti-harassmenttraining for all members and staff in Congress.

When we work with our clients, we encourage them to train everyone. We know that when third-party, expert content is made available to the entire employee population, they’ll actively use it. We know that people have questions about specific situations and need help understanding if an act is inappropriate, minor misconduct or full-fledged harassment. We know that employees need guidance to help them resolve issues quickly and efficiently. If it’s just a misunderstanding they can often handle it themselves.If it’s more, we can help both the employee and the employer move to a swift resolution.

Acknowledging and addressing issues, early and effectively, builds trust and goodwill. It creates a more loyal and productive workforce which research shows translates intogreater profitability and shareholder value.

You’ll be hearing more from Patti as she shares strategies, practical tools, and expert insights to help anyone exposed to unprofessional conduct to report it and gain an efficient resolution, and to prevent inappropriate behavior, misconduct and full-fledged sexual harassment. Keep following the Emtrain blog, like us on Facebook, connect with us on LinkedIn and follow us on Twitter to keep in touch.

Click the link for more information on our 35 minute online Sexual Harassment Preventiontraining for employees. You can also contact us at info@emtrain.com.

What Color Is Your Workplace?

Imagine a scene where a group of colleagues are having a brainstorming meeting. At first, everything is on-topic and productive. Then a manager says something inappropriate: maybe it’s a sexual comment or a joke based on a stereotype; maybe it’s a mocking observation about an employee’s value to the team.  About half the people burst out in laughter. A few people shift in their seats. Two colleagues glance at each other. Some people are clearly uncomfortable but they let the comment go by so they can get back to work. This incident passes by, but over time, little comments like these add up and demotivate and demoralize members of the team.

That’s why we created the Workplace Color Spectrum - a communication tool that categorizes workplace behaviors into four colors: Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red. Positive and productive behaviors are coded “green,” toxic and illegal behaviors are coded “red.” Inappropriate comments, like the ones mentioned above, sit somewhere on the spectrum between green and red: they may be “yellow” if people are uncomfortable, or further down the spectrum and “orange” if people feel disenfranchised because of who they are, e.g., their sex, race, age, etc. 

Now imagine the scene a little differently. When the manager says something inappropriate, a colleague says “hey, that comment was pretty “orange,” and another agrees. The manager is now aware that what they’ve said offends others.  The manager wasn’t told he/she was a harasser, automatically putting them in a defensive, adversarial posture.  The feedback is on the comment, not the person, allowing the person to get the conversation back on track in a healthy way.   

The Workplace Color Spectrum is a key component of our online compliance training and has been deployed across all types of organizations. It gets rave reviews from employees and company leaders. We’ve watched as clients have integrated it into their workplace and seen how it’s created healthier workplace cultures. 

Workplace culture is the result of values and how employees reflect those values with each other, with customers, partners, shareholders and the community.  When we evaluate workplace culture, we analyze employees’ actions in four (4) key, cultural components that can make or break workplace culture:   

  • Are people of all backgrounds (gender, race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc) treated with respect? 
  • Do people communicate respectfully? 
  • Are interactions between colleagues collaborative and motivating? 
  • Do leaders resolve conflict in a way that’s helpful? 

By asking “What Color Is Your Workplace,” we’re focused on how a workplace scores in these areas.  The answers provide us a snapshot of the workplace culture and how it might be improved. While individual behaviors are ranked on a four-color scale, we allow for color blends like “yellow-green” when we rate workplaces, because they are an aggregation of behaviors. 

Take our “What Color Is Your Workplace” quiz and consider your workplace culture and how it might be improved. We’re on a mission to create healthier organizations. Join us.

Check the Drama at the Door: Part 4

Welcome back to ‘Check the Drama at the Door,’ our ongoing series about preventing workplace conflict and promoting a healthy culture. Over the past few weeks, I have been identifying potentially “triggering” events or issues and turning points at which companies may be able to take steps to avoid strife, boost productivity and loyalty and, one hopes, make their businesses desirable employers. If you missed the last couple of posts, check out Part 1Part 2, and Part 3, which cover establishing culture, organizational changes, communication improvement, and proactive decision making.

My experience as an independent workplace investigator has given me a bird’s eye view of workplace conflict as it unfolds, and I have been able to spot a few patterns. One pattern is that there always seems to be a singular point in time where the action could have been avoided. I have been posting a series of blog entries that address best practices for conflict prevention and resolution while identifying potentially triggering turning points. This is the fourth post of that series.

Step 6

Optimize your training program so that the first round of training is not the only round. Almost all companies recognize that having a robust training program is a way to prevent conflict.

Unfortunately, many companies design and execute poor training programs. As explained in a 2016 report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), bad training is not only ineffective, it can be counterproductive.

Triggers:

  • A lack of substantive job training for new hires. If I had a penny for every employee who either told me that they received little or no training to do their job—or for every employee who told me that they became their department’s trainer by default—well, I’d have a lot of pennies!
  • A failure to properly integrate company mission and values into training for new hires. (Are you including in your training your company’s mission and value statements? Are you introducing new employees to unique aspects of your company’s culture? Are you providing a roadmap for how to be successful in the company or department?)
  • Making training (particularly harassment and diversity training) a “blame game.” (Making employees or supervisors feel as though they are at fault for problems at work, particularly without providing solutions, will render your training program a complete fail and possibly produce a backlash effect.)
  • Designing training that is only a litigation-avoidance tool together with a failure to provide nuanced examples/scenarios. The world of harassment, discrimination, retaliation and diversity is not all-or-nothing, black or white, or yes or no; situations are nuanced.
  • A lack of creativity in training.

Practices to Consider:

  • Solicit feedback from employees to see how new hire training can be improved. Does the department need to develop a training manual? Does the computer-based training offered provide tangible and helpful assistance?
  • Unless the training truly is mandatory (such as harassment-avoidance training for managers in California), consider making some training voluntary, but provide incentives and rewards for participation (the most important incentive is a for the training to be effective and engaging).
  • Make sure training—whether live or online—is compelling and thoughtful. Make sure examples are nuanced, that real-life scenarios are relatable, and that the delivery is engaging. Create buy-in, not blame. Remember the “WIIFM” (“what’s in it for me”) approach when addressing training topics such as harassment, management and leadership, diversity, etc..
  • Provide easy-to-use training tools for how to maximize the use of HR processes such as performance evaluations, coaching, dealing with difficult situations, conflict-management and resolution, discipline, terminations, etc..
  • Be creative!
  • Train managers AND employees.

Step 7

Make maximum use of HR tools. Rather than seeing job descriptions, job postings, performance evaluations, organizational charts, exit interviews, and other commonly used HR tools as burdens, make them truly useful and productive.

Triggers:

  • Failing to put thought into tools to recruit and retain the best employees.
  • Failing to set clear expectations (about the company, the department, and the position) during the recruitment and hiring process and in job postings and job descriptions.
  • Using performance feedback tools as a once-a-year (painful and dreaded) exercise.
  • Ranking systems and too-frequent use of performance improvement plans (PIPS).
  • Using job descriptions to give vague information about what is expected of the employee.
  • Using organizational charts to define people, not positions.
  • Failing to use organizational charts to put people’s roles in the organization into perspective.

Practices to Consider:

  • Make maximum use of tools and resources during the recruitment and hiring process to ensure accuracy and precision when describing the available job and the company (in job postings, ads, descriptions for headhunters, ads in professional journals, etc.).
  • Job descriptions can be helpful tools that provide a road map to employees, clarifying what is expected of them in their positions.
  • Performance feedback that is continuous, honest, and precise works well. If you are going to use an annual performance evaluation system, make sure managers understand that this does not mean that they should not give continuous, timely, and constructive feedback (both positive and negative).
  • Carefully question the use of ranking systems, and evaluate whether PIPS are being used effectively and how to better address performance concerns. PIPS should not be used exclusively as a precursor to termination.
  • Honest performance feedback should not be viewed negatively. For example, if an employee has not kept up with company changes, be honest and consider either offering the employee an opportunity to work in another job or even consider helping her make a graceful exit from your company. You are not doing an employee a favor by keeping her in a role for which she is no longer suited.
  • Organizational charts should not only provide hierarchy information, but also contextualize a position within a larger framework. Remember that although the person in the position is important as an employee, decisions related to a position are about the position, not the person currently in that position.

I hope that these tips serve you well! Remember that there is always room for improvement in your organization's culture; whether in your training programs or your evaluation procedures, it is important to constantly be looking for areas that can be built upon, and organizational gaps that can be closed. Be sure to check in regularly as Patti Perez discusses the role of investigations in resolving workplace conduct, and how to transform tensions into opportunities.

Check the Drama at the Door: Part 6

Welcome back to ‘Check the Drama at the Door,’ our ongoing series about preventing workplace conflict and promoting a healthy culture. Over the past few weeks, I have been identifying potentially “triggering” events or issues and turning points at which companies may be able to take steps to avoid strife, boost productivity and loyalty and, one hopes, make their businesses desirable employers. If you missed the last couple of posts, just scroll down. They cover establishing culture, organizational changes, communication improvement, training practices, HR tools, and workplace investigations.

My experience as an independent workplace investigator has given me a bird’s eye view of workplace conflict as it unfolds, and I have been able to spot a few patterns. One pattern is that there always seems to be a singular point in time where the action could have been avoided. I have been posting a series of blog entries that address best practices for conflict prevention and resolution while identifying potentially triggering turning points. This is the sixth and final post of that series.

Step 10

Turn challenges into opportunities. Disrupt how people think about conflict. Set a tone at the management level: your company welcomes a low level of drama if it means that it will not escalate into full-blown conflict and will lead to an even better workplace culture.

  • Use emotional intelligence to work through situations such as those in the examples given throughout this blog series. This means combining logical information (data, performance expectations, etc.) with a human side. A large percentage of conflict arises not because of what was said, but how it was said.
  • Use a common-sense approach. Don’t focus on minutia, citing policies, having secretive meetings, or being afraid of having an overly-informed employee base. Instead, hire and retain employees who are committed as well as passionate about your company and about his or her role within the company.
  • Keep perspective. When you are in the trenches, dealing with conflict and near-conflict on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose heart. Take a deep breath and remember to use the tools outlined in this series to keep conflict to a minimum.

No organization has a perfect culture. There will always be areas that can be improved upon, and opportunities to stamp out factors that inhibit a healthy, drama free culture. With each HR challenge comes the potential for organizational improvement. I hope that this series ‘Check the Drama at the Door,’ has been both educational and enjoyable for you, but more importantly I hope that it leads to the healthy culture you desire in your workplace. Thanks for reading!

Check the Drama at the Door: Part 5

Welcome back to ‘Check the Drama at the Door,’ our ongoing series about preventing workplace conflict and promoting a healthy culture. Over the past few weeks, I have been identifying potentially “triggering” events or issues and turning points at which companies may be able to take steps to avoid strife, boost productivity and loyalty and, one hopes, make their businesses desirable employers. If you missed the last couple of posts, just scroll down. They cover establishing culture, organizational changes, communication improvement, training practices, and HR tools.

My experience as an independent workplace investigator has given me a bird’s eye view of workplace conflict as it unfolds, and I have been able to spot a few patterns. One pattern is that there always seems to be a singular point in time where the action could have been avoided. I have been posting a series of blog entries that address best practices for conflict prevention and resolution while identifying potentially triggering turning points. This is the fifth post of that series.

Step 8

Use technology, analytics, and other cutting-edge tools to note and address trends.

Employers should make maximum use of technology and data analytics tools to gather, analyze, and share information to track trends, and to identify and address potential problems.

Employers can collect and analyze the following type of data:

  • hiring data;
  • turnover rates;
  • departures of a particular type of employee in a department (for example, has there been a large number of women, older employees, or employees of other protected categories who have left a particular department?);
  • data about who is being promoted, getting pay raises, getting recognition, or receiving the higher evaluation scores;
  • pay equity issues.

How to use the data:

  • Many companies have systems in place to encourage diversity and attempt to eliminate or minimize unconscious bias. These tools can and should be used to supplement those programs.
  • For example, is a particular hiring manager only hiring men, young employees, women, people of a certain race, etc.? Although this may not amount to conscious bias, it might indicate unconscious bias or a lack of diversity in the candidate pool. If so, mechanisms can be put into place (unconscious bias training, expansion of recruitment methods, etc.) to address these concerns before they become a problem.
  • Beyond hiring, analyze ratings, raises, promotion rates, etc. for departments and the company as a whole to check for similar warning signs and, if necessary, to implement similar fixes.
  • For pay equity issues, use data to see if there are significant differences in pay among men and women and among employees of different races and ethnicities. This information can serve as a tool to define or clarify the criteria that is being used to determine employees’ total compensation (including starting salary, base salary, incentive bonuses, performance bonuses, etc.).

Step 9

Make sure you view investigations as a conflict resolution tool, not as a defensive tool. When an employee lodges a formal internal complaint, the situation has already escalated to a true conflict, but an investigation provides a company with an excellent opportunity to diffuse the situation, no matter the outcome or findings.

To the extent your investigation uncovers some level of misconduct, address the issue and implement a creative and effective fix.  Companies often fall into the trap of thinking there are only two options: do nothing or discharge an employee. Doing nothing is almost never the answer (even if allegations are unsubstantiated, you might need to clarify information to change perceptions, there might be a policy or practice you need to tweak, or you might consider some targeted training). And while termination is certainly an appropriate action when the facts warrant that decision, companies too often reach this decision without a deep analysis and they fail to document that analysis (which sometimes leaves the terminated employee feeling he has been treated unfairly).

Triggers:

  • trying to “spin” facts to “protect” the company;
  • failing to implement any remedial measure;
  • failing to communicate during and after an investigation;
  • a lack of consistency (i.e., a lack of actual and perceived fairness) in the investigation process;
  • reaching conclusions prematurely or turning an investigation into a witch hunt.

Practices to Consider:

  • There are no “bad facts” in investigations, only facts. Your initial job as an investigator is to collect evidence in order to reach a fair and reasonable conclusion. Next, it’s to figure out how to fix the situation. If you do not find evidence to support an allegation, there is likely an issue of perception (or misperception) that needs to be fixed. If you find any type of misconduct, you must implement creative remedial measures that are in line with the severity of the misconduct. This means looking at the entire picture to see what would send the most appropriate message and will prevent the misconduct from happening again, or from escalating.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. At the beginning of the investigation, be precise and transparent. For example, you might tell the accused party: “My job is to provide you with an opportunity to respond to each of the allegations raised about your behavior.”; you might tell witnesses: “I’m performing an independent investigation and although the allegations do not involve you or your job directly, you’ve been identified as someone who might have important information to share with me.” During the investigation, make sure you keep the parties apprised of your progress. You are not required to reveal details about your witness list or the exact work you’ve performed but simply that you are continuing your work. After the investigation, communicate clearly and compassionately with all parties. Make sure you are addressing both actual and perceived fairness throughout the process.
  • Do not let unconscious bias or preconceived notions tarnish your independence during and after an investigation.

Remember that there is always room for improvement in your organization's culture; whether that be in your evaluation procedures, or your compensation mechanisms, it is important to constantly be looking for areas that can be improved upon, and organizational gaps that can be closed. Be sure to check in next week for our final post in the series. Patti Perez will discuss turning challenges into opportunities and tie the entire series together.