How harassment is going to cost your business

Fearful employees lead to absenteeism and lost productivity

I consulted with someone last month who called to ask for advice. Here’s what she said:

“I witnessed something, and I don’t know what to do. I just saw my most talented colleague get harassed by our general manager. He is a married man, she is a married woman, and he is flirting with her and paying way too much attention to her. The result is that now my talented, smart, witty colleague is suddenly withering into someone who is afraid to come to work. What do I do?”

We see this happen too often in the workplace, and it’s not okay. Even the most capable people will crumble when fearful. In a recent Gaille Media survey on sexual harassment in the workplace, 31 percent of female workers affirm that they have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace at least once; 51 percent of these women claim that the harasser was a supervisor. The cost to a business is tangible.

Harassed employees lead to disengagement and can cost a minimum of $2,000 per year per employee in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other problems that result when employees are unhappy at work. This doesn’t even include the cost of lawsuits! Sexual harassment and harassment claims are some of the highest paid employment claims. On average, claims range from $53,000-$125,000.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1984. This article of the law secures and protects the rights of individuals in the United States of America against employment discrimination and prejudices on the bases of national origin, race, religion, or sex. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) was created to ensure that this law is upheld. The commission is responsible not only for addressing sexual harassment complaints, but also for preventing the very occurrence of such hostilities in the workplace.

It is important to note situations can be gray and the level of tolerance with each person is different. Many people get caught up in the black and white nature of harassment. How do we really know if the action is truly sexual harassment or harassment? The act itself means different things to different people.

So how do we teach this gray area? By teaching them the act of respect: Respect is the key to making us all feel valuable and heard as employees. If you have to ask yourself, “Is this type of behavior a form of harassment?” or “Would I say this to my mom or sister?”, chances are you are doing something that you shouldn’t do. When in doubt, refrain from saying or doing things that might be taken as harassment.

We should not concentrate on the word harassment; we should ask ourselves if we are being respectful towards our fellow co-workers. If we don’t feel respected, our engagement, morale, commitment and team work goes down. Never make jokes or comment about someone’s age, race, national origin or gender. All of us bring different ideas and perspectives into the workforce; let’s celebrate our co-worker’s ideas and perspective rather than concentrating on their outside appearance.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives