Updated: Oct 25, 2020
A friend recently invited me to a seminar on the implications for Human Resources Managers and Lawyers in light of the #MeToo social media encouragement of people (especially women) to speak up if they had been sexually harassed in their workplace or by work colleagues.
The guest speaker was a lawyer who said two things that really stayed with me -
Human Resources Managers are the "moral backbone of the organisation", and
A company recently paid $12million to defend a case for 127 days.
I agreed with what was said, however, I think that the moral compass of the organisation has to be the head, and if they are not proactive in creating and nurturing a culture of respect, then it just won't happen. And they will pay for it sooner or later. The lawyer's example equated to $4million per month: a ridiculous amount of money to be losing, simply because someone thought they weren't doing something wrong (or knew it but ignored the fact).
Does size matter?
Sometimes an organisation can be too big for it's own good; maybe it can afford to bleed $4million per month (but why not just offer a payout? Maybe they have, and the complainant wants to set a precedent so others who come later will be able to benefit).
But here's the catch - it's not just a court case. It's the collateral damage to the company and all who work there. A defence like this would certainly impact the company's insurance premiums - you make a claim, premiums skyrocket. It would influence staff moral - increasing gossip, conflict, absenteeism, resignations, and decreasing productivity, loyalty and retention. And it won't stop there! The reputation of the organisation suffers, "heads will roll for this" and the ability of the HR people to recruit quality replacements is hampered by the lowered perception of others in the marketplace. And then there's the effect on the families of all these people whose lives have been rocked by shocking news and the fear of their jobs being in jeopardy. There is no win in sight!
There is hope!
When recruiting, HR Managers can reduce the chance of a conflict of interest - nepotism is a big one, and it might include your special someone, but also your old students and former coworkers, your drinking buddies and sporting team-mates, your champagne sisters, cousins and neighbours. Instead of employing someone you know, actually look for someone who can demonstrate (in their application, interview and references) that they have a commitment to respectful communication and behaviour. Don't trust them; test them.
Proactive CEOs and COOs could be budgeting for workshops on all kinds of social justice issues, like respectful communication and behaviour, being a good exemplar, and working with a purpose.
Some companies have great goals, even putting up the budget for resources, but still falling short of the mark. Take the institutions that have online learning modules, for those who opt in, to improve their ability to teach, train, mentor and supervise. That's great, but what about those staff who really need to learn these capacities, but don't care enough to opt in? There are still team leaders who are known as bullies, about whom their managers do nothing. Employers have a responsibility to ensure their workplace is safe from harassment, discrimination, negligence and abuse. To ignore the formal complaints of staff about these types of abuse amounts to Accessorial Liability.
Where to now?
We all have a great opportunity to improve our workplace, and if I'm blunt - we all have the responsibility too. But, let's call it an opportunity! Let's commit to ensuring fairness in our recruitment practices, to make sure that they go to the best person for the job (and that person demonstrates that they are a respectful person). Let's empower our staff and colleagues to have open and frank discussions around what is and is not acceptable behaviour, tone, attire and language. Let's empower the heads of our organisations to be proactive in assuring our workplaces become and remain safe from bullying, discrimination, nepotism, exclusion and violence of any kind. And let's - you and I - be people who care enough about others to stand up, speak up and defend the victim when necessary.
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