If you haven’t done sexual harassment training in your office yet, do it now. All your employees need to understand what behavior is appropriate in the workplace, and what isn’t. Training about what is sexual harassment and what are the clear expectations for behavior is an important start.
But, if you really want to create an office culture where everyone works hard and feels respected and included, it takes something more.
It takes a commitment to examining your company’s culture and the day-to-day behavior of your team, then intentionally making changes. We know this can be done because we have done it. You CAN create a fun, creative, engaged culture- where people are inspired to bring their best, most productive selves to work because everyone feels good being there.
Recently, we were pulled into a very fast growing biotech firm where a few of the high performers were “behaving badly”. This is a very common scenario. The company had started out as a small group of excited founders. But now, it was much larger with multiple offices of diverse employees, many of whom were not particularly comfortable with the touching, swearing, and circulating jokes and memes around the office. We (our lawyer and psychologist team) were tasked with trying to change the behavior of the employees who were accused of crossing the line. What we quickly learned, however, was that this behavior was pervasive in the organization.
Instead of the punitive, “you guys are bad” approach, we took a different tact. We believe that people and organizations change most easily when they start from a place of strength and competence. So, when working with the employees at this company, we began with these questions:
What are your greatest strengths and what strengths already exist in your organization that you can build upon to change behavior?
When addressing sexual harassment, organizations have a tendency to focus on all the negatives and all the ways the individuals needs to change. This is a normal reaction but not effective. We helped these employees and the leaders of this company take a step back, and FIRST get very clear on all the ways that they are strong. It was from this foundation of strength that they were able to change behavior and make changes internally to shift their organization forward.
Next we asked, what is the culture you have here and what is the behavior you want?
We have seen several organizations struggle with this because the culture just evolves from when they were a small group of excited founders behaving in ways that became the norm. Now, people find the behavior offensive, and in fact, it may give rise to legal action. We worked with the biotech firm to first identify the culture they had in place, and to help them clearly identify the elements of a stronger, more inclusive, and more productive culture. Then we helped them create an action plan to get there.
Finally, we asked what does “respectful behavior” really look like?
It is essential that everyone in your office understand what this means in the most concrete ways. We suggested ways that could reward the behaviors they wanted to encourage. We worked with the employees who were “behaving badly” in this firm to get crystal clear and very specific about what behaviors were in fact respectful in the workplace, what behaviors were no longer going to be tolerated, as well as making sure they understood the consequences for exhibiting behavior that did not meet that standard. This required a series of coaching sessions to really shift behavior.
Sexual harassment training and behavior change consulting are not just about being politically correct or checking the box from your outside counsel. Research shows that people are more productive at work when they truly feel respected, comfortable and empowered. Do not assume that people are happy with the culture and the behavior in your office just because they don’t say anything or smile along. This is where your company is exposed. Be thoughtful and intentional about creating a place that is creative, fun, close-knit, and respectful too.