In the workplace, there is a fine line when connecting with employees. While it’s important to have a laugh from time to time, you need to draw the line on inappropriate jokes, conversations and actions. The workplace is a professional environment where you are employed to do a specific job. Along with your job, you need to be respected by colleagues and feel comfortable with your surroundings. Your place of work should make you feel safe and secure at all times.
Often times, employees are exposed to threatening working conditions which might lead to difficult events. And, while your colleague or manager might be frustrated from time to time or a little too comfortable in your presence, you need to keep your eyes peeled for any strange, harassing actions. If you feel threatened or somehow in danger the minute you step foot in your office, do not let it go. Management should constantly be on the lookout for such behaviour among the team. In order to prevent these events from happening and putting the organisation at legal risk, you need to put a few plans into place.
Before you can prevent this in the workplace, you need to be able to identify what is considered to be ‘harassment’. It can be through verbal, written, physical or visual cues. From sly comments or negative stereotypes to offensive jokes and threatening gestures, harassment can be done on one particular individual or a group of colleagues. If anyone feels threatened or intimidated, it’s a serious offence.
Here are a few ways to identify and prevent harassment of all types in the workplace.
Have a clear policy in place
Creating an anti-harassment policy which every employee is clear about is a good way to set the tone for the company’s culture. When employees have a clear understanding of the repercussions involved in such an incident, there will be no room for misunderstandings or miscommunications. Everyone should be on the same page and employees should also have access to a document which explains how employees should react to these incidents. It’s critical for management teams to stress the need for respect in the workplace so that everyone is aware of any behaviour that does not reflect these values.
Communicate the policy
Simply having a policy in place for harassment cases is not enough. You need to communicate openly about the harassment case law in South Africa and not avoid anything that could be seen as taboo. Whether it’s physical, verbal or written, these acts happen nearly every day, so it’s important to take a stand and make a difference in your team’s culture. By being open about this type of topic, it will allow people to feel more confident when something does happen, to confront the person and address it.
Review and revisit your policy
The harassment act policy you implemented five years ago will not be as effective in years to come. Laws and workplace requirements continue to change, therefore you should keep revisiting your policy and update it from time to time. When a new employee arrives, make sure that you introduce them to the updated policy and have a formal meeting about the company’s values and expectations around this topic. If there are changes in the policy, management should communicate it to their teams as a whole.
Empower your people to not be fearful
Make it clear that your business does not tolerate any employee disrespect. Should someone go against this, a professional case will take place. And if someone feels or experiences any harassing actions in the workplace, they should understand exactly how to report the incident without being fearful.
Implement harassment training
Introducing regular training courses or workshops will make it evident just how much you believe in taking a stand and educating your employees about harassment in the workplace. Training will educate employees about the harassment case law in South Africa, and it will help employees identify these instances not only for their own benefit but for their colleagues around them. In order for training to be effective, employees need to have a clear idea of the difference between good and bad behaviour in the workplace.
It should be focused on what is expected of you during your time at the company. From the minute you arrive at work to the minute you leave. When your employees connect with each other over a topic like this, it will allow everyone to be more open about the topic without allowing anyone to ignore it.
Harassment in the workplace is a serious offence. There is no reason why people should let something like this (which has the potential to ruin someone’s life or perception of themselves) to slide without being addressed. Make sure everyone works according to these rules and regulations, and if anyone breaches the policy, management will take things further. Once employees know that there is a serious exit strategy connected to your company’s harassment act warning, they will be more careful with their actions.