According to a poll by Monster.com, 90 per cent of workers have directly experienced bullying in the workplace. This could be in the form of a manager who belittles them, a coworker who loves pranks or the office gossip. No matter how it materializes, harassment and bullying make the victim feel excluded from the company.
Exclusive behavior not only hurts the victim, but also opens the door for more aggressive behavior, creating a stressful, unsafe environment for everyone. Luckily, you can change your company culture and prevent harassment by embracing inclusion.
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How Inclusivity Prevents Harassment and Bullying
Inclusivity shouldn’t be just the responsibility of one person or department. You need to build it into your company culture. Think about it. In your company, do employees:
- Hire, promote or choose for projects only people who look like them?
- Take credit for others’ work?
- Leave coworkers out of projects, meetings or social gatherings?
- Treat their coworkers inconsistently (e.g. saying hello to one person but not another)?
If you let exclusive behaviors slide, harassment or bullying aren’t far off. However, focusing on a diverse culture that accepts and celebrates employees’ differences shows that everyone is important and valued in your company.
HR consultant, coach and trainer Catherine Mattice Zundel suggests that a cultural shift can begin with better training. “If you have conversations around inclusivity, then people start to realize how their behavior impacts inclusivity or exclusivity,” she says.
Sharing scenarios and explaining the victim’s side of the story can “help [employees] empathize with those outsiders” who might be excluded. When they understand those feelings, employees are less likely to exclude, harass or discriminate against their coworkers.
Ways to Foster an Inclusive Workplace
So, how can you use inclusion to prevent harassment in practice? Zundel suggests making three key changes to your everyday workplace procedures.
While many companies have made great strides towards diversity and inclusion, the fact remains that women and people of color often are ignored in meetings.
When they can’t share their thoughts, these employees might be passed over for a promotion they deserve and your company could miss out on some great ideas.
To make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak and be credited for their work, Zundel suggests that you train employees to:
- Amplify ideas and give credit to people: don’t let one employee steal another’s talking point
- Respond to showboating by pointing out expertise and experience of others
- Rotate administrative duties: take turns as notetaker each meeting
- Kick questions back to the right person: the employee in charge of the project or with the most expertise should answer
Do you discuss bystanders in your anti-harassment training? Zundel suggests that employees who witness harassment and make “a conscious choice not to step in” aren’t passive bystanders but, rather, enforcers of the harasser’s behavior.
“The best defense against bad behavior is to have the staff intervene,” she says. “If you can teach your workforce how to step out for each other, and for themselves . . . people start to co-create the culture together, where they’re taking a stand against negative behavior together.”
When employees work together as a team to combat harassing behavior, victims aren’t left out of the group. Instead, bullies see that they are the ones on the outside and should change their ways.
Finally, victims and witnesses alike need to feel safe speaking up when they see harassment. Otherwise, they’ll never come forward and behavior can escalate and/or go on for years. “Psychological safety is really at the forefront of creating an inclusive work environment,” Zundel says.
As you work towards a more inclusive work environment, treat harassment and bullying like the disruptors that they are. “Any sort of negative exclusive behavior is a performance problem,” explains Zundel.
If an employee is always rude and sarcastic, approach them the same way you would an employee who often comes into work late. Both behaviors negatively affect that employee’s performance as well as their coworkers’.
When employees see that you don’t tolerate harassing or bullying behavior in any form or to any degree, they’ll feel more comfortable calling it out to their managers or HR.
Bullying can be hard to define and recognize. Raise awareness of the signs and how to report an incident by printing, customizing and hanging this free workplace bullying poster in employee common areas.
Making your company’s culture more inclusive makes victims feel safe and helps bullies see why their behavior is wrong. If you want to learn more about how to prevent harassment and bullying with inclusion in the workplace, check out Zundel’s full webinar here.
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