17 months ago, in the aftermath of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the #metoo campaign exploded across social media. Highlighting the prevalence of sexual abuse against women has frankly been an uncomfortable truth for society - yet a truth which needed to be accepted before we could move forward.
If we look back across this last year and a half, despite some friction that was expressed as a result of such a social awakening, one would have to recognise that the #metoo movement has transformed the way we deal with harassment in organisations and in the wider community.
With the level of social inertia that is present on the topics of bullying and harassment, there is a genuine opportunity for all Australian businesses to adopt a zero-tolerance culture which affords everyone the right to a safe and discriminatory-free workplace.
So, why make such a shift? Despite the significant penalties individuals and companies are exposed to for non-compliance, there are tremendous brand-building and productivity upside for doing so, such as lower staff turnover, increased morale and reduced absenteeism.
Where do you start in creating a zero-tolerance culture?
Processes and policies for building and encouraging respect in the workplace are important, but alone they don’t prevent inappropriate behaviour from occurring. This is where culture has an important role to play.
A zero-tolerance culture may be a longer journey for some businesses than it is for others. As a result, many will experience 'growing pains' as they eradicate toxicity and begin building values and behaviour befitting the zero-tolerance title.
To truly be effective, your organisation must begin with the right people at the top, leading the way by role modelling appropriate behaviour and calling out and disciplining inappropriate behaviour.
When employees recognise that their Managers are reliable advocates for their rights, then the development and implementation of clear and thorough policies will instil the confidence and deterrents that they are intended to.
The need for effective people and culture practices
Policies which are regularly reviewed, updated and communicated are an essential pillar of culture management. Equally, having agreed procedures will assist employers in taking a consistent and fair approach when resolving issues.
To support and guide behaviours, organisational values play an important role. An organisation's values need to articulate that a culture of respect, honesty and integrity is upheld by all, and anyone who is not aligned with these values will be managed accordingly.
Robust recruitment and selection processes will ensure that you attract and select people who will positively impact and enhance the culture. This further encourages any 'bad apples' to either improve, or opt-out; which is often a great signal that your journey to a zero-tolerance culture is right on track.
An effective culture also mandates that alignment with organisational values and culture are non-negotiable factors in career progression and promotion to leadership. This solidifies the rules of engagement.
Continuous Culture Improvement
Cultivating a culture of respect and promoting positive relationships amongst employees and management will go a long way towards creating and maintaining a zero-tolerance culture.
Businesses need to ensure employees are aware of prohibited conduct and the available avenues of support if they are struggling. Moreover, you must always take complaints and comments about harassment seriously. When it comes to dealing with allegations of harassment, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'
In a zero-tolerance environment, we need to demonstrate that we are there for each other. Across all levels of the organisation, people must be encouraged to stand up if they observe any behaviour that is demeaning, disrespectful or inappropriate. Managers need to be the example – helping all employees to see themselves as part of the solution and believing “it’s my job” to create a respectful work environment.
Organisations should also ensure that suitably qualified people investigate any issues raised. If you don’t have the expertise in your organisation, then it’s important to get external independent help.
I don't think it is possible to overstate the importance of developing and maintaining a zero-tolerance culture. It minimises risk in your business, improves productivity, enhances peoples mental health and wellbeing, delivers tremendous fulfilment for everyone, and leaves a positive mark on society - and that is well worth the effort.