At one time or another, we’ve all been subjected to a dull, seemingly pointless anti-sexual harassment training. Maybe the moderator simply read every word of the slides aloud. Maybe the information was so obvious that it felt like a waste of everybody’s time. Maybe what was obvious was that HR had a compliance goal to meet.
When employee trainings are boring, unenlightening or designed merely to limit liability, the entire process can be worse than ineffective. It can actually be counterproductive. If your anti-sexual harassment trainings have had lackluster results, consider a few tips to make them more useful and engaging:
Begin with your goal. It’s helpful to work backwards by thinking about what you want your employees to learn. For example, you may want them to know that the company supports a culture free of discrimination and harassment. Or, you may have a specific goal of encouraging people to come forward with complaints sooner than they have in the past. Knowing the outcome you want will help you develop a program that leads to that outcome.
Customize the material to your company. Whether you develop the training or buy one from a third party, it’s crucial that the materials are aligned with your corporate values and are consistent with your policies. Don’t train on how a company ought to operate; train on how your company ought to operate.
Broaden the conversation beyond legal compliance. Discussing sexual harassment in a purely legal context is boring — and misses a major point. The problematic behavior that can lead to a sexual harassment complaint occurs along a spectrum and often involves multiple exchanges. Your employees need to know what behavior is inappropriate, and what the consequences might be, even if that behavior doesn’t qualify as sexual harassment under the law.
Choose more nuanced examples. If your employees are rolling their eyes and making sarcastic comments during the training, your examples may be too obvious. It’s true that instances of obvious sexual harassment do occur, but most people know to avoid grabbing people or trying to coerce sexual favors. What most employees need to know is what non-obvious behaviors could be problematic, such as over-sharing about their dating lives, standing too close, or complimenting someone’s appearance.
Circle back with periodic training. Think of anti-sexual harassment training as a process, or plan a series of courses meant to promote a discrimination-free workplace. Questions, observations and discussions may be provoked by the course or may come up later. Let your employees know that there will be a time to handle those in an upcoming training. Or, make a specific person available for off-the-cuff, no-consequences discussions about your company’s sexual harassment policy.