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Lessons to Help You Prevent Inappropriate Behaviour in Your Business
Within the media coverage of McLaughlin, Doyle and Weinstein, three high-profile sexual harassment cases (and a few others) are some very important and powerful lessons that every Small Business owner needs to take notice of.
At the time of writing, none of the complaints have been finalised, and yet the lessons are still clear.
The potential for sexual harassment or bullying exists whenever there are two or more people interacting. Note, that I say potential. That also means that it can be minimised and does not automatically happen. Regardless of the size of your business taking notice of these four lessons can potentially save you dozens of hours in lost productivity, thousands of dollars in legal fees and untold damage to your business and personal reputation.
Lesson 1. Policy provides an essential framework but is not enough on its own.
No amount of policy and documentation on its own is enough. Policy can and does provide you with a baseline to train people and provide feedback about what your business defines as acceptable behaviour and reasonable expectations.
Lesson 2. Recruitment is a key factor for success.
Especially when you assess how people behave when under pressure. Imagine the potential for conflict if you have a team who go quiet and focused when under pressure and a new manager who becomes loudly task focused under stress. Recruitment and hiring decisions made on the basis of skills alone rarely deliver an ideal outcome. You need to build your team being conscious of how individuals will interact.
Lesson 3. Talking about it to others doesn’t help the situation.
This creates division and people taking sides. When a serious allegation or complaint is made, it’s essential that discussion of the matter be limited to the investigation process. Talking about a situation more broadly quickly becomes gossip, and that is very unhealthy for a business.
Lesson 4. Create a culture where staff are free and comfortable to raise concerns.
This is going to prevent a whole lot more than harassment. Imagine how it would be when your team members can report a problem or a fault and get the input of the whole team to resolve it. Imagine the innovation you could create. One of the most striking features of several high-profile cases has been the time taken for managers to find out how serious the situation has been. In a culture that encourages respectful and open communication awkward matters can be raised early; before they escalate and get out of control.
Serious allegations are fraught with emotion for all involved:
- The person lodging the complaint clearly feels uncomfortable and unable to cope with what is going on.
- The person accused is in the spotlight.
- Co-workers can sadly get drawn into the emotion by taking ‘sides’.
- Managers trying to run the business as usual while also managing the investigation. One of my business owner clients found the day when every staff member was interviewed by the independent investigator incredibly stressful and disruptive to his business.
One of the more striking aspects of media coverage has been the length of time since the alleged behaviour occurred and when the matter became public. Typically this seems to be a result of initial comments and questions from the victim being ignored or swept under the carpet. Several accusers have said that they felt that they were being silenced and that the best avenue to break that wall of silence was to go to the media.
Taking notice of these four lessons will help you prevent inappropriate behaviours in your business and will also help you manage if the worst case should happen. Take care of your company culture by recruiting and managing well, and your business and your staff will perform well.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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