Why anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is important

Recent research from LRN reveals an encouraging sign: when it comes to observing misconduct or unethical behavior in the workplace, most employees who see something, say something. But when the misconduct in question involves workplace harassment, bullying, or discrimination, the research presents a greater organizational challenge. According the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), roughly three out of four individuals—almost 75%—who experience workplace harassment do not report it. The costs of not reporting incidents of workplace harassment, bullying, or discrimination can be severe financially, professionally, and reputationally for both employees and their organizations. Not reporting can also raise serious questions about the health of a company’s organizational culture.  

That’s why it is important to provide anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training in the workplace. When implemented effectively, this type of training can help organizations avoid major compliance issues, improve team dynamics and professional relationships, and build a more ethical culture that positively impacts business performance.   

Why harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is important 

To ensure your training is effective, it’s important to first understand why anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is important in the first place. Harassment prevention training raises awareness across the organization of what harassment is, how to identify if it is taking place, and the role employees can play in helping to create a safe workplace culture. Here are five key reasons why delivering harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is important to employees and organizations. 

1) Training educates employees on what types of harassment, bullying, and discrimination exist 

Harassment, bullying, and discrimination are some of the most common forms of misconduct in the workplace. There are many different types of words, gestures, or actions that are classified as workplace harassment. We detail some of the most prominent examples—and some of their warning signs—in another article. 

2) Training addresses the intersectionality of workplace harassment, bullying, or discrimination  

Incorporating intersectional experiences into anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is important because it reminds employees that there are many elements to a person’s identity. And unfortunately, that can also mean there are many ways in which a person can be targeted for who they are. For example, targeting a person because of their gender is a common form of workplace harassment. According to a 2021 global study from Deloitte, over half of surveyed women said they have experienced some form of harassment or non-inclusive behavior at work in the past year, ranging from unwanted physical contact and disparaging remarks to having their judgment questioned and being given fewer advancement opportunities on account of their gender.  

But other aspects of a person’s identity are targeted for harassment, bullying, and discrimination as well. The 2021 Deloitte study also found that LGBT+ women are almost four times more likely to say they have experienced jokes of a sexual nature and five times more likely to have experienced belittling comments about gender. In addition, one in 10 women of color say they have experienced comments about their race in the workplace. They are also more likely to have experienced comments about their communication style than white women (15% vs. 5%). 

A 2020 study from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund found that nearly one in nine people (11%) said that they had experienced both sex and race discrimination at work. Nearly one in five people (18%) said that they had experienced discrimination or harassment based on sex and other aspects of their identities. For example, they were harassed because they were a woman with a disability, a woman of color, or a woman born outside of the country they currently live in.  

3) Training teaches employees how to identify bullying and harassment in the workplace 

Workplace harassment and bullying can have serious effects on morale, productivity, and overall performance—both for individual employees and the business at large. However, knowing the types of behaviors and warning signs that indicate someone is being harassed or bullied at work can help create better prevention strategies and improve performance across the board. We cover many of these details in a recent article. 

4) Training can help people report incidents of harassment, bullying, or discrimination at work 

Unfortunately, fear of retaliation is a legitimate concern for employees when deciding whether or not to report incidents of workplace harassment, bullying, or discrimination. The NWLC and TIME’S UP study found that more than seven in 10 survivors (72%) who experienced workplace sexual harassment faced some form of retaliation when they reported it. Of those who experienced retaliation:  

  • More than one-third of people (36%) said they were fired from their job. 
  • Nearly one in five people (19%) said they were given poor performance reviews, had their work products or behavior scrutinized, or were otherwise treated poorly. 
  • More than one in seven people (15%) said they were slandered or had their reputation damaged in some way by their perpetrator or employer. 

Delivering ongoing harassment prevention training can help clarify how to report and investigate allegations of misconduct. Employees should know the steps they need to take if they are dealing with harassment or witness a colleague being bullied. Training that also communicates your company’s zero-tolerance approach to any form of workplace harassment, bullying, or discrimination can help employees feel safe and encouraged to come forward. 

5) The costs of workplace harassment, bullying, and discrimination can be severe 

If people do not report incidents of workplace harassment or discrimination, the costs it can bring to employees and their organizations can be substantial. A 2019 report from Deloitte estimating the economic costs of workplace sexual harassment in Australia found that, when unchecked, harassment in the workplace imposes a significant number of costs—including:  

  • $2.6 billion in lost productivity, or $1,053 on average per victim. 
  • $0.9 billion in other financial costs, or $375 on average per victim. 

At an average weekly wage of $1,244 across the economy, each case of workplace harassment represented approximately four working days of lost output.  

  • The largest loss of productivity—staff turnover, 32% of costs—resulted in lost income to individuals, lost profits to employers, and reduced tax paid to government.  
  • Significant losses also resulted from absenteeism (a measure of the lost output due to employees taking paid or unpaid leave due to workplace harassment) at 28% of costs, and manager time from responding to complaints at 24% of costs.  

Employers bore 70% of these costs, government 23%, and individuals 7%. The estimated lost wellbeing—i.e., the loss of a physically and/or mentally healthy lifestyle—for victims of actual or attempted sexual assault was an additional $250 million, or nearly $5000 per victim on average. These numbers show that without effective anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training, the financial toll of workplace harassment or discrimination takes is striking. 

How effective anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training can help 

Implementing anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training is an important and effective management tool for avoiding major compliance issues, improving team dynamics and professional relationships, and building a more ethical culture. Deploying this type of training on a frequent basis—using digestible content to help information stick—can help teams get out in front of problems and even trace problems back to its root cause, a useful tool for managers who might be separated from other aspects of the workplace environment. When the training is delivered at scale, it can help prevent countless harmful situations throughout an entire company. Here are two best practices to ensure your anti-harassment and discrimination training is effective: 

  • Demystify the reporting and investigation process. Do employees know what to do or where to go if they do witness misconduct?  In addition to having specific policies on reporting, investigations, and disciplinary actions, a simple one-page infographic, flow chart, or summary on the systems and channels of reporting can help provide clarity. These communication assets should complement dedicated awareness-raising campaigns and education, tailored to your employee population.   
  • Don’t just focus on speaking up—also focus on listening up. Humans were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Speaking up puts the onus on the individual employees to act, whereas “listening up” is a leadership and organizational capability that can be cultivated. The LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture notes that most employees raise ethical concerns to their manager. So, it is critical that managers are trained to handle concerns appropriately, and not just about misconduct; any employee concern should be received seriously. Demonstrating respect and follow-through—even if the result is not what the employee hoped for—is critical to maintaining trust and confidence in the organization and its leaders. 

The key takeaway 

All teams will have to deal with disagreements between employees at different points throughout their careers. But some of the most emotional conflicts that anyone will encounter in the workplace will involve harassment or discrimination in some way, even indirectly. The cost of such behavior is significant to employees and organizations alike, but deploying anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training can help ensure this behavior is not tolerated by anyone.

To learn more, request a demo of LRN's newly designed anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination training. And click here to view LRN’s collection of AHD training resources.