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Why traditional harassment training doesn’t work

July 28, 2022

Last week, we posted about why harassment persists in the workplace. Despite changes to the law and many workers attending harassment and respectful workplace training, workplace harassment and violence are still around. Often, organizations look to training to address workplace harassment. But traditional training is not effective as it can be. Here’s why, and here’s how we can improve harassment training.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) studied workplace harassment in 2016. The EEOC determined that training is an essential component of anti-harassment efforts and is effective in educating workers on what type of conduct is acceptable in the workplace.

But harassment training can miss the mark. Harassment training that is not interactive or that focuses too much on theory may not impact workers. A one-size-fits-all approach can be problematic, especially if supervisors and non-supervisors are given the same training. Supervisors need additional tools on how to address incivility. As well, training that is too short or does not include components that speak to associated issues, like incivility and bystander participation, may be insufficient.

The EEOC offers these tips for effective training:

  • Support from the top – A message of support from leadership, such as a video of a senior leader speaking about the importance of a respectful workplace, may underscore the importance of the training to workers.
  • Regular training – Training should occur regularly, which will send a strong message that the organization takes harassment seriously. But organizations should refrain from repeating the same training content, and instead offer training in more areas of harassment (e.g., sexual harassment, incivility, racial harassment, etc.).
  • Qualified and interactive trainers – Dynamic and engaging trainers are effective. Trainers should be sufficiently knowledgeable to offer practical examples and answer questions pertaining to realistic situations.

Organizations should also routinely evaluate their training to assess whether the desired changes in participant attitudes and behaviour occur, and if not, to adjust training methods accordingly.

Although harassment training only goes so far, it is vital to preventing harassment in the workplace.