4 ways to make your sexual harassment training more effective

Sexual harassment prevention training is generally not HR professionals’ favorite thing. Here are some guidelines to make the experience more useful for both management and employees — courtesy of guest poster Jimmy Lin,  vice president of The Network.  
Sexual harassment training doesn’t have the best reputation in the workplace. More often than not the response you’ll get when you ask about someone’s sexual harassment training experience is “Oh, I’ve got a story about that…”
Regretfully, scare tactics, extreme scenarios and outdated videos are some of the most common methods used during sexual harassment training. While they make for funny stories post-training, they do little to accomplish their original goal – provide employees clarity as to what classifies as sexual harassment and how to respond if and when it actually happens.
The thing that makes sexual harassment so difficult to train on and fight is that there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what constitutes harassment. This not only makes it more difficult for victims to distinguish whether something is sexual harassment or not, but it also makes it challenging for other employees who might witness an iffy situation to know whether it’s worth reporting.
There is a high chance that at some point in your employees’ careers they’ll be placed in a situation where the distinction isn’t clear. Even the best business ethics or sexual harassment training can’t prepare them for every single scenario they might encounter, but by providing them with the basics they’ll be much more likely to know how to respond.
To make your sexual harassment training more effective, consider these four tips:

1. No one’s exempt 

Too often, company executives skip out on sexual harassment training because they’re either too busy or believe it’s more important for lower-level employees. This lack of support from senior leaders sets a poor example and creates a negative impression of the importance of the training for the rest of the office. Ongoing sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all company employees, regardless of title or prior commitments. (See American Apparel’s recent fiasco if you have any doubts.)
According to a 2013 SHRM Legal Report, companies typically spend $25 to $50 on each employee for training. This might not seem like much, but when you have to train hundreds or thousands of employees it quickly adds up. As a result, company executives often remove sexual harassment training from senior leaders’ training program to help save some money.
While this may be more cost effective initially, one wrong incident brought on by a senior-level executive could cost the firm millions. To accommodate schedules and your budget, utilize different training options — hold smaller group sessions or use a virtual program. It’s important that everyone is educated and trained – no matter their position.

 2. Focus on behavior, not rules

The problem with most training is it quickly becomes a laundry list of rules to follow. There is a large emphasis on what not to do, but little focus on what behavior is appropriate. Training should encourage respectful behavior instead of merely pointing out what to avoid. Use your training to express your organization’s mission, values and expectations, while highlighting suitable behavior and actions.

3. Make it an ongoing and interactive experience

Training can’t be treated as a one-and-done exercise. It needs to include periodic education as well as follow-up awareness and ongoing communication.  Simply handing them an updated policy manual to memorize won’t do it.
Instead, companies need to approach training as an ongoing and interactive process. This means out with the text-based PowerPoint slides and horrific sexual harassment training videos that were made in the ’90s.
An outdated movie that showcases second-rate acting and overly dramatic scenarios place sexual harassment in a more comedic light—which is exactly what you don’t want. Representing material in this way is unappealing and will result in employees taking the training less seriously.
Today’s younger generations learn through the combination of relatable scenes and characters with voices, so while making your policy available for easy reference is important, ensuring training is memorable – in a good way – is just as critical. By presenting information in relatable ways and through multiple outlets, your training will create a stronger and more lasting impression.

4. Make training relatable to everyday life

The best approach to training is presenting information in ways that will resonate with employees. Training should incorporate character-driven situations that portray how harassment policies impact employees’ work life, as well as the benefits of having a respectful work environment. You can’t assume that employees will take the material and apply it to their everyday lives, so it’s important that scenarios directly correlate with your company’s values and your employees’ actual jobs.
Your training should also emphasize the less obvious manifestations of sexual harassment. Most sexual harassment isn’t as cut and dried as the movies make out – it’s less the creepy boss calling a female employee into his office for a backrub, and more likely a series of subtle comments, jokes, or gestures that lead to harassment. It’s important that your employees recognize the need to report even these beginning signs to stop harassment in its tracks, rather than waiting for a full-blown sexual harassment incident report.
Jimmy Lin, vice president of product management and corporate development at The Network, leads corporate and product strategies for The Network’s Integrated GRC Solutions.