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Is Your Harassment Training Effective? Here's How to Know

When you’re trying to influence employees behavior, generic, victim-blaming harassment training won’t cut it

Posted by Ann Snook on March 30th, 2021

If you designed your harassment training just to fulfill a legal or regulatory requirement, it probably does the bare minimum. Forcing employee to listen to a dry definition of harassment or watch half-hearted reenactments will just put them to sleep.

To prevent harassing behavior, encourage a culture of ethics and give your company a positive reputation with employees and the public alike, your harassment training needs to be specific, empathetic and comprehensive.


For effective training, start with a strong policy

Basing your harassment training on your internal polices reiterates your messaging and ensures clarity and consistency. Give your policies a boost (or start drafting new ones) using this free policies and procedures template.

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Do You Focus on Theory or Practice?


When assessing your harassment training, start with its focus or angle. Do you discuss the theory more, such as a rigid definition of harassment, or do you include practical information unique to your company?

Sometimes, training is “so focused on compliance and the law that the big picture is being missed,” explains strategic HR consultant Catherine Mattice Zundel. “It’s focused around, you know, case studies or case law. Well, that’s not useful to anybody who feels harassed.”

Instead, she suggests using real scenarios to show employees what they should do if they experience or witness workplace harassment. “What’s useful is, [saying] ‘Here’s what it feels like. Here’s what you should do with those feelings. Hey, managers, if you see low level stuff that could escalate into harassment, here’s how you deal with that.'”

For example, share specific examples of harassing behaviors that could occur in your industry and workplace. Clearly communicate where and how employees should report harassment. Finally, tell managers how to respond when an employee comes to them with a complaint.


RELATED: 11 Types of Workplace Harassment (and How to Stop Them)


Do You Include Allyship Training?


In your harassment training, do you put all the responsibility on the victims to report incidents and protect themselves? If you want to prevent harassment and install an inclusive workplace culture, focus on allies instead.

“Allyship is about understanding that imbalance in opportunity and working to correct it,” says Melinda Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst. She explains that prevention starts with teaching employees to “advocate for underrepresented people in small ways.” For example, by intervening when they see bullying or harassment, they “can change the power dynamics in the room.”

In Zundel’s trainings, she trades the terms “bystander” and “witness” for “reinforcer” to show the power the victim’s coworkers hold.

If they “know that bad behavior is happening, and [they] don’t step in,” they’re making “a conscious choice not to step in by being silent.” By doing nothing to help, “they’re giving a very loud message to the bad actor that they support the behavior, and they’re damaging the target by not helping the target out,” Zundel says.

Teaching employees how to be good allies and stand up to harassers on the victim’s behalf keeps the behavior from escalating and creates a culture of kindness in your organization.


RELATED: How to Handle Harassment Complaints in 2021


Is Your Harassment Training Part of a Larger Program?


When you’re communicating behavioral do’s and don’ts for your organization, training lets you address the largest number of employees with the lowest effort.

However, Zundel notes, “if you focus or rely too much on training, then the training is missing the boat. It’s not doing what it’s supposed to do.” Instead, implement a broader anti-harassment program with training as just one aspect.

“Training influences behavior a little bit, but there’s so much more to influencing behavior,” says Zundel. “We’ve got to stop relying on training as a solution as if it’s going to change our culture. We have to influence behavior with things like core values, training, performance management systems, coaching conversations, how we’re recruiting people who we’re recruiting as new hires and so on and so forth.”

Generic annual harassment training isn’t enough to keep harassment out of your company. To make real change, you need to incorporate these ethical ideals and behaviors into every policy, procedure and process.


Case management software can help you better manage and prevent harassment in your organization. Learn how by downloading our free eBook, “Conducting Effective Harassment Investigations with Case Management Software.”


To learn more about how to prevent harassment and bullying in your organization, check out Zundel’s full webinar here.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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