Entering a New Era of Workplace Harassment Prevention Training

To truly resonate with employees and drive behavioral change, content must be both thought-provoking and memorable.

As the impact of the #MeToo movement continues to reverberate, states are implementing and updating anti-harassment training regulations to increase protections for employees. In responding to new regulations, organizations must critically examine their harassment prevention training programs to ensure that employees can recognize all forms of harassment in the workplace—either as a victim or a witness to an incident—and feel empowered to take action if it should occur.

This effort has proven to be a significant challenge for employers. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management, nearly a quarter of non-management employees were unaware that anti-harassment policies existed in their workplaces. As of October 2019, all New York employers were required to deliver anti-sexual harassment training, with future annual training to be based on the state’s updated Human Rights Law. In January, training mandates in both Delaware and Illinois went into effect. And as of January 2021, non-supervisory employees in California will be required to complete one hour of anti-harassment training every two years.

With so many changing regulations related to harassment prevention in play, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to training is no longer adequate, particularly for organizations operating across state lines.

Instead, relying on a more agile way to deliver harassment prevention training is paramount. Given the rapidly evolving regulatory environment, organizations must be able to quickly modify and update training materials to ensure continued compliance. For many organizations, even those with a robust, technology-enabled compliance program, keeping up with regulatory developments can be an arduous and costly process.

Additional challenges further complicate companies’ efforts to deliver effective training. Dry, one-dimensional content is simply ineffective for meeting training mandates in many jurisdictions, such as demonstrating what constitutes unlawful harassment or presenting strategies for properly responding to inappropriate conduct. Nor does lackluster training properly underscore the lasting impact of harassment on victims and on the workplace generally. To truly resonate with employees and drive behavioral change, content must be both thought-provoking and memorable.

The Power of Storytelling

Making the viewer somewhat uncomfortable within the safe confines of training can empower viewers to effectively respond to inappropriate behavior in the real world. Personalization of the training message is increasingly important, particularly for organizations that employ diverse workforces. Companies must provide training that resonates with the wide range of employee environments—from the office to the shop floor—that are present in the workplace. By presenting employees with realistic, relatable scenarios that are closely aligned with their work environments, training becomes more effective, retention is improved, and long-term impact is more readily achievable.

According to Stanford University, stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. As demonstrated by Skillsoft’s innovative brain science research, stories and scenarios improve learning and retention outcomes because they generate emotional engagement in the learner. Skillsoft’s research initiative sought to demonstrate that scenario-based video training is better able to capture the subject’s attention compared to traditional, instructor-led training. Not only did learners rate their scenario-based experiences as markedly more interesting than the instructor-led training, but electroencephalogram study results confirmed that learners watching scenario-based content were significantly more attentive and focused relative to instructor-led content. Moreover, learners who experienced scenario-based content performed significantly better on post-training assessments than those who watched instructor-led videos.

Now that the positive effects of learning via storytelling are known, it is exciting to imagine the potential impact of this approach on harassment prevention training. For example, consider how experiencing first-hand stories from victims of workplace harassment, in which they describe their feelings of being trapped, powerless, and terrified of losing their jobs, will impact viewers. Or imagine how true-to-life scenarios, portrayed by relatable characters and filmed in the style of a network television drama, can draw learners into a discussion of important legal standards while invoking empathy. These emotionally charged approaches unquestionably leave employees more aware of their own behavior and better equipped to recognize, resist, and report harassment if they should see it.

On the Front Lines

Let’s face it, workplace harassment—particularly sexual harassment—is an uncomfortable topic to discuss. But even in the wake of #MeToo, it remains pervasive in American workplaces. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, one in three women in white-collar professions has experienced sexual harassment. Yet the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that 90 percent of employees who experience harassment never file a complaint.

As Training professionals, we are on the front lines of an ongoing struggle that was touched off, but by no means won, by the #MeToo movement. As an industry, it is our duty to utilize developments in technology, instructional design, and brain science research to heighten the efficacy of training, improve corporate culture, and eliminate unlawful harassment from the workplace.

Charlie Voelker is director of Legal Compliance Product at Skillsoft Compliance.


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