Every night on the news, it seems like more stories of workplace harassment are coming to light. According to a Harris Poll released in November 2017, although 64% of American women say they felt more comfortable today speaking out and challenging abusers, only 20% of women said they believe their companies would listen and be supportive if they were to speak out against their abusers. What is Human Resources’ role in handling office misconduct in this changing landscape? In this issue of Astronology®, we take a look at the current challenge of harassment in the workforce.
Traditionally speaking, the Human Resources department serves six main functions:
- Recruitment: Advertise job postings, source candidates, screen applicants, conduct preliminary interviews, and coordinate hiring efforts.
- Safety: Provide workplace safety training and maintain federally mandated logs for workplace injury / fatality reporting. HR safety and risk specialists also work closely with HR benefits specialists to manage worker compensation issues.
- Employee Relations: Ensure proper labor relations and strengthen the employer-employee relationship. Strengthening is done via measuring job satisfaction, building employee engagement, and resolving workplace conflict.
- Compensation and Benefits: Set compensation structures, evaluate competitive pay practices, negotiate group health coverage rates with insurers, and coordinate activities with retirement savings fund administrators. Payroll also can be a component.
- Compliance: Ensure that organization is in compliance with labor and employment laws.
- Training and Development: Give employees access to leadership training and professional development tools / programs.
A lot of HR’s responsibilities are for the benefit of the organization. Because of this, employees may feel that their concerns will not be properly addressed. This is a key problem as noted by Tana Session, a Forbes Council member, in a Forbes online post. “Most organizations have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind in the workplace, but HR cannot properly manage complaints if they are never reported. Unfortunately, more times than not, these incidences go unreported due to fear — fear of being fired, retaliated against, considered a troublemaker, embarrassed or not taken seriously,” she shares. In the same Forbes post, she points out that the each employee’s life cycle begins and ends in the HR department. This means the HR department oversees the culture of an organization, and is a factor in whether harassment becomes a permissible factor in an organization’s culture.
In an NPR article, Lisa Brown Alexander, CEO of Non-Profit HR, points out that most HR professionals “see themselves as having dual loyalties…and they work hard to balance interests of the company and the employee.” No one in HR intentionally removes the human in Human Resources, yet it is sometimes viewed as such in deference to an organization.
So what can be done to change these perceptions? What tools could be used to help employees to see that they can come to Human Resources to report issues and to find relief when harassment occurs? Perhaps additional assistance could be of some help.
For instance, an NPR article speaks of an outside, “HR Urgent Care” service such as Bravely. The service provides an outside “coach” to discuss challenging issues, such as harassment, with an employee that may need to report an issue. CEO Toby Hervery explains, “We offer an alternative starting point that’s totally confidential, and totally safe, because it all lives outside the walls of the company…we try to be that objective truth and a neutral perspective on what the company policies are, and what they can expect if they go forward…”. Hervey explains that many companies pay for the service as an employee benefit, “hoping it helps with employee retention and helps nip problems in the bud.”
Another outsourcing HR element to consider is a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). Carolyn Stoll contributes to PEOcompare.com that “PEOs can offer core functions of the work place to office management, and can put into place HR policies that are able to address claims of harassment in the workplace. Larger companies have the option of hiring specialized HR employees to deal with harassment cases on the spot and/or implementing their own HR policy.” For a small employer, however, hiring specialized HR employees may not be in the budget. Access to a PEO can be the happy medium for a small business that would like the security of knowing challenges like harassment can be handled immediately. This also allows employees to feel safe that their reports are being taken seriously and are not being “swept under the rug.”
Has your organization made some recent adjustments to address or prevent harassment in the workplace? Has Human Resources shown an even greater presence recently? How does HR communicate that harassment will not be tolerated? Feel free to share your thoughts in our comments box below!