Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive! Also, if situations arise where intervention of a third party is required to ward off office politics, expert help and counsel on several matters can always be available at Labor Law Compliance Center. Feel free to reach out to them.

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Some Predictive HR Analytics to Start Using

Fourth Entry in the Metrics and Analytics Series

Today I’m going to review and explore a number of actual predictive HR analytic measurements that Jac Fitz-Enz discusses in his book, The New HR Analytics.  The first eight are ones that Fitz-Enz considers the most effective  based on his actual experience working with many different organizations since the 1980s. The additional three are from other experts and are equally useful as leading indicators.

Fitz-Enz uses ratios but I like to use percentages instead, so I tweaked his definitions a bit.

1. Professional/Managerial Percentage: This is the number of professionals and managers compared as a percentage to the total number of employees in the organization’s workforce.  (e.g.  Let’s take an organization with 2500 employees and 1352 professionals and managers. They would have a Professional/Managerial Percentage of 54.08% (1352/2500=.5408)). Typically, a organization with a higher percentage would be considered as having a greater chance for future growth and profitability. In this example, the organization may or may not have a potential problem because it would depend on the nature of the business and/or industry.

2. Readiness Percentage (Succession): This is the percentage of  key jobs with at least one qualified person ready to take over.  (e.g. An organization with 82 key jobs has determined through their succession plan review and analysis that they currently have 36 employees who can effectively step in and take over if those key jobs are vacated. This would be a Readiness Percentage of 43.9% (36/82=.4390)). The closer this number is to 100%, the better so in this example, the organization has a fairly serious gap in their succession planning strategy for their key positions. This will likely result in slower growth while these positions remain vacant during the talent acquisition process and increased costs as they recruit for outside and often expensive talent.

3. Commitment Percentage: This is the percentage of the organization’s staff that is committed to the organization’s overall mission and vision. This percentage is measured by an employee survey.  (e.g. An employee survey was conducted and it was discovered that only 739 of the organization’s 2500 employees knew and believed in the organization’s mission and vision. This would be a Commitment Percentage of 29.56% (739/2500=.2956)).  The higher this percentage, the better. In the example, the organization shows signs of a serious lack of commitment and employee buy-in of the organization’s values and mission. A lack of commitment shows a lack of engagement which leads to lower productivity and increased turnover.

4. Leadership Rating: This is the performance rating of the organization’s current leadership as measured by the organization’s staff.  This is also measured by an employee survey. (e.g. In a survey, using a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being Unsatisfactory, 3 being Meets Expectations, and 5 being Outstanding, the organization’s staff rated their leadership at an average score of 2.43). According to the scale, the organization’s leaders are below expectations. This rating is predictive of employee retention and turnover rates as it is well known that the most common reason people quit their jobs is because of poor managers and leadership.

5. Climate-Culture Rating: This is the rating the organization’s staff gives as to whether the organization is a good place to work and is also measured by an employee survey. (e.g.  In a survey and using the same 1 to 5 rating scale, the employees give the organization a Climate-Culture Rating of 2.12 which would be below expectations). This rating is also predictive of retention and turnover rates because the second most common reason people quit their jobs is based on the poor working climate and culture of the organization.

6. Training Rating: These are the scores from the organization’s current training programs that develop skills that help employees get their jobs done now.  Interestingly, this rating is not concerned in training for skills needed for the future because having skills you don’t use or need now does not add positively to corporate value.

7. Accession Percentage (Turnover): This is the number of new and replacement hires as compared to  the total number of employees in the workforce.  (e.g. An organization with 2500 employees had 1750 new and replacement hires during the previous year for an Accession (turnover) Percentage of 70% (1750/2500=.700)). Of course, this is a negative indicator and the lower the number the better. There are both hard costs, conservatively estimated to be six to nine month’s of the employee’s salary to hire and train that employee, and the soft costs, lower engagement and morale from the remaining staff and lower productivity from the new hire.

8. Depletion Percentage (Turnover): This is the percentage of the top talent the organization lost in a year. (e.g. An organization with 2500 employees lost 126 of their top employees in the previous year for a Depletion Percentage of  5.04% (126/2500=.0504)). This is also a negative indicator and a lower number is better. The higher the number, the worse the organization’s future ability to maximize profitability as they are losing their best innovators, producers, and leaders not to mention the hard and soft costs we discussed earlier associated with turnover.

As I mentioned at the beginning, in addition to these eight measurements, there are three more predictive HR analytic measurements mentioned in the book that also serve as very good leading indicators. There isn’t a lot of detail in the book on these measurements but they seem interesting and ones that I will explore further in the future.

1. Executive Stability Ratio and Separation Rate: This rate shows that executives with more than three years of executive experience lowers voluntary employee turnover in the organization.

2. Management Ratio and Promotion Rate: The number of employees that each manager in an organization supervises impacts the number of promotions that those employees have available to them. Managers with a smaller span of control, supervising fewer employees, have fewer promotion opportunities for  them. This affects employee engagement, morale, and retention.

3. Training Investment Factor and Promotion Rate: This measurement shows that the more an organization spends on training programs, the more employee professional development will occur which should increase employee engagement, morale, and productivity.

These 11 predictive HR analytic measurements are all excellent and a great place to start.

Most of the data you need can be found on your current HRIS and you can run an employee survey to collect the data you need for the remainder. I suggest using SuveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey to create and administer an employee survey. They both have free accounts and trial periods where you can test run some surveys with no financial risk.

I prefer using SurveyGizmo and have decided to add a new feature, using SurveyGizmo, called the HHHR Weekly Survey based on my latest post and podcast, if appropriate. So take a look at the top of the sidebar on the right or click on this link and take the survey.

How to Ruin the Christmas Holiday Party

It is the middle of the Holiday season and organizations are having their annual Christmas Holiday Parties.

Christmas Holiday parties are intended to thank  employees and make sure they have a good time.  You want to make sure they feel appreciated and great about the organization and the people they work for and with.  As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the party.

When I was a store manager in retail, I gave away prizes at the end of the party through a random drawing. I ALWAYS made sure that my wife and I did not have a ticket in the drawing.  I did not want to take the chance that we would win one of the really nice prizes because it would look bad and send a very negative message to my team.  I also gained an additional level of respect and credibility once employees realized I refused to be included in the prize drawing.

This philosophy was reinforced a few years back at a Christmas Holiday party I was invited to attend.  The party was very well organized with games and events for employees and their families.  People earned tickets by playing the games, similar to Chuck E. Cheese, and put their tickets in a bag for the prize they wanted a chance to win.  There were 12 expensive and very nice prizes including a bottle of single malt scotch and a high end GPS device.  Everybody at the party participated in the games, including the CEO, CFO, and all the VPs. The party was a huge success until the very end when the tickets were drawn for the prizes.

The CEO was very entertaining during the drawing but every single one of the 12 prizes ended up going to one of seven executives – including the CEO – or their spouse.  What made it worse was the executives got caught up in the excitement of him winning and made a big show of it in front of all the other employees.  I was embarrassed for him.  I observed the line employees and middle management become disappointed then angry as the drawing continued.  They were no longer having any fun and actually left the party disgusted with the leadership of the company.

I spoke to the CEO shortly after the party was over and asked him what he thought about what happened and he said that everybody had the same chance of winning and that was just how it turned out.  Tone deaf to say the least.  The execs could easily afford the prizes they won while the line employees and middle management could not.  There is no reason the execs should have put their tickets into the drawing. They should have let the non executive employees end up with all the prizes.

Remember the purpose of the Christmas Holiday Party is to thank the employees and make sure they had a good time.  The party is intended to boost morale.

This party did the opposite.

A Story About Motivating Star Performers (and How I Goofed)

This story goes back to when I was a General Manager for a large department store chain, The Bon Marche (now Macys).

It was the Christmas season, the most important time in retail, and my number one producing Department Sales Manager (DSM) requested a day off that fell on the same day as a very important sales event.  It was for her six year old son’s birthday.

Being a hard driving and competitive store manager who had to obliterate his sales goals, I denied her request and told her she had to work. We had big numbers to make, by god!  She dutifully worked that day but her energy and enthusiasm was noticeably less than normal – a condition that continued on for several months afterwards.

Looking back, I realized what a hypocrite I was.

I had always preached “family first” but denied her the day with her son on his birthday.  She always worked hard and effectively every day and was my top performer is sales, credit, and customer service month in and month out.  But my short sighted quest to make my sales numbers on one single big sale day ended up costing me so much more.

Her morale was dashed and she became disengaged – my number one producing DSM – and I know it cost me more in sales numbers over the long run than what it may have cost me had I let her have the day off.  She remained noticeably disengaged and unenthusiastic about her work for several months after.  Her performance numbers slipped, affecting the total store’s numbers.

Not only that, my credibility was damaged with her and the rest of my store team.  I learned a hard lesson about how not to treat a star performer. I certainly should have allowed her to have that one day off and she would have come back an even a stronger and more engaged DSM because I would have shown confidence and trust in her team and her preparation.

Several months later, I told my star DSM that I used this story in a presentation I gave a at a store manager meeting. She was a bit embarrassed but I could tell it meant a lot to her that I was willing to publicly share my mistake with my peers.  It helped repair our relationship and restore trust.  About a year later she returned from a DSM training week in Seattle and told me that the Director of Stores (my bosses boss) shared my story about her and the mistake I made to her entire DSM class.  She loved the fact the story had such an impact and was being used to help train the managers in the company about engagement.

In my time as a department store General Manager, I found that the Pareto Principle applied in many aspects of my job including my management team. Twenty percent of my management team produced eighty percent of my store’s performance results.  My star performer above was in that twenty percent and by showing insensitivity and a lack of trust in her, I damaged a certain level of her ability to produce the eighty percent of the performance results that she normally achieved.

I should have allowed my Star to have the one day off to celebrate her son’t sixth birthday.  I should have trusted her preparation and her team to make her goals for the day without her being there.  I seriously goofed.  And it cost me.

Improve Communication – The Best Way to Increase Morale and Engagement

The best and most effective way to increase employee morale and engagement is to improve communication. this Accountemps survey of 300 HR Managers, the number one cause of poor morale is a breakdown of communication.  “Lack of honest, open communication” comes in as the number one response at 33% with “micromanaging employees” coming in second at 18%.

According to the survey:

“Managers can be doing everything right, but if they’re not including employees in the information loop, staff engagement could suffer,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies®, 3rd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “To improve communication, keep team members apprised of company goals and performance, and encourage them to ask questions and offer feedback.” Messmer added, “Fortunately, morale problems can often be addressed relatively easily. Improving workplace communication is one of the most effective — and one of the least costly — ways to combat the problem of a disengaged workforce.”

Based on my own experience, I can say that Mr. Messmer is spot on.  I have worked for organizations both excellent and terrible in their communication.  It was fun and exciting working for an organization that openly shared and communicated.  On the other hand, it was frustrating and depressing working for an organization that kept everything “secret”.

As a General Manager, I worked hard communicating to my team – and it is hard work where many managers fail – as evidenced by the above mentioned survey.  I led operations of over 100 employees to multiple performance awards and attribute much of that success to regularly and consistently communicating our strategies and progress to the team.  They bought into and, as a result, were fully aligned towards executing the strategies and took each of my operations to the highest award in the company, Store of the Year.  That award is very difficult to earn and to do it twice in two separate locations is nearly impossible.  It could not have been done with open, honest, and consistent communication.