8 ways to prevent and mitigate workplace harassment and bullying

posted on August 3, 2021

Without proper prevention, harassment can lead to low productivity and high employee turnover

By Jeffrey R. Smith | July 12, 2021 | HR Reporter

Statistics Canada’s 2016 General Social Survey on Canadians at Work reported that 19 per cent of Canadian women and 13 per cent of Canadian men had experienced harassment in their workplace at some point in the previous year. Workplace harassment can consist of behaviours such as verbal abuse and verbal bullying, humiliation, threats, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention, both in person and on digital platforms such as work email and social media.

Verbal abuse and humiliating behaviour were the two most common types of harassment cited in the Statistics Canada survey.

A survey by the Queen’s University School of Business found that more than one-half of Canadian workers have experienced or witnessed workplace harassment.

Here are eight ways HR professionals can prevent and mitigate workplace harassment and bullying.

Review policies and procedures

An organization’s policies should encourage a respectful and professional work environment by stating clear expectations and possible consequences of breaching them. These policies should be regularly reviewed to ensure that they stand up to changing legal requirements and the evolution of technology and workplace culture.

Create (and enforce) an anti-harassment policy

Respectful workplace policies are good to have, but organizations should also put in place policies that directly address harassment and bullying. An anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy should set out what type of behaviour constitutes workplace harassment — including examples and types of bullying — and the process on how employees can report harassment or bullying and to whom.

The roles of managers, human resources, and executives, if applicable, in the process should also be spelled out so everyone is aware of what is expected of them.

Harassment is still a problem that is hurting employers’ ability to attract and retain talent, an HR lawyer says.

Easy access to communication channels

Workplace harassment can be difficult, so organizations should make it as easy as possible for employees to find someone to talk to, whether to file a complaint or just to seek advice — and for the latter, an element of anonymity could help. Some organizations have dedicated telephone lines or email addresses for reporting harassment and bullying, but if that isn’t feasible, employee surveys are a relatively affordable method for keeping the lines of communication open.

All the information on policies and processes should be easily accessible for employees, such as through online resources, posting in common areas of the workplace, and in employee handbooks distributed to all staff.

Build support systems

A positive work environment doesn’t just have rules prohibiting harassment and bullying, but also ensures that employees who are subjected to it receive proper support. In addition to an anti-harassment policy that sets out how to report harassment, it’s a good practice to have a support system for victims of bullying and harassment. This could include making counselling services available, mental health leave, and management staying in regular contact.

In cases of sexual harassment or mental health issues, the organization may have a legal obligation to investigate accommodation of some sort. If the harasser isn’t fired, this could involve separating the harasser and the victim in some way.

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