We are fortunate to live and work in a time when civility in the workplace is widely recognized as a benefit, not only to the employees, but the organization and its customers as well.  Respectful Workplace policies set the standard for behaviors within the organization, and towards others, be they co-workers, management, employees, customers, or vendors. However, sometimes there is a gap between the respectful workplace policies, and the implementation of the policies. In this post, we discuss 6 points focused on closing that gap with Respectful Workplace training.

Why Do We Need Respectful Workplace Training?

There are two very good reasons for providing Respectful Workplace training for employees:

    • it is one way to ensure there is an environment where employees feel safe and can thrive, and
    • in Canada, it is the law.

Every employee in Canada has the right to work in an environment that is harassment free and respectful. It isn’t enough to have a respectful Workplace policy. Training is needed to bring about awareness and understanding of the components that comprise a respectful workplace, as well as to ensure everyone knows their responsibility with regards to their own behaviors and communication.

There are significant emotional effects of harassment, discrimination, and bullying.  These effects have negative impacts on employees, their managers, and as a result, the organization. Proper training sets expectations to ensure the workplace culture is respectful.

What Does Respectful Workplace Training Look Like?

Key topics covered in Respectful Workplace training generally include:

  • the definition of what a respectful workplace is and is not,
  • the associated laws,
  • an explanation of tolerance and grey areas of this topic,
  • an overview of an organization’s associated policies and responsibilities,
  • a discussion of the organization’s process for making a formal or informal complaint,
  • an introduction to the importance of diversity and inclusion,
  • a discussion about self-awareness / understanding and the role each one plays,
  • discussion on how to promote a respectful workplace,
  • the role of the leaders, and
  • interactive exercises and role plays.

As with any training, the key to having a successful session is participant engagement. Discussions need to be open and frank. Participants need to feel that this training is for their benefit, not simply a break from their normal routine or something else that is being imposed upon them.

Where Is It Required?

All employers in Canada, provincial or federally operated, public or private, have a legal requirement to have a respectful and harassment free work environment for their employees.  Employers are required to communicate and foster a workplace free from harassment.  This includes developing, maintaining, and enforcing a Respectful Workplace policy and complaint process, training for all employees and having an investigation process in place for when a complaint is submitted.

When Should An Employer Do Respectful Workplace Training?

There are generally three entry points:

1) It is always best to do this as a preventative measure. Not only is it less risk to the organization, but it can also be very costly if an organization does not do the training and harassment occurs.  Federally regulated companies are required to provide the training to new employees within 3 months of their initial start date.

2) If there is any hint of harassment, discrimination or bullying in the workplace, it is recommended to do training or offer refresher training. Sometimes people need to be reminded.

3) It can be court-ordered as an outcome of a complaint. Employees at anytime, whether they are employed or post-employment, can seek legal assistance and file a human rights or health and safety complaint.  Employers have found themselves faced with hiring external consultants or lawyers to do a workplace investigation at significant cost, only to be deemed at fault because they had not put the preventative measures in place originally (i.e. they failed to train or develop a culture of respect/harassment free work environment and it was deemed that harassment/discrimination/bullying did in fact take place).  In these circumstances, permanent emotional damage of the employee could occur, the reputation of the employer can be tarnished, recruitment of new employees can become more difficult, and turnover of existing employees can increase.

How Should An Employer Go About Ensuring They Have A Respectful Workplace?

First step, assess your workplace and ensure that your Respectful Workplace policy meets the legislative requirements and workplace needs.  Secondly, do training not only on the policy but the expectations around behavior and communication.  This gives everyone a starting point on expectations.  Lastly, live it! Demonstrate through leadership and continue to develop and support a workplace culture that is respectful.

Final Thoughts…

As with and new implementation, there are some pitfalls to consider:

  • some employers will not assess the workplace first for some of the hazards,
  • some use a cookie cutter approach that may or may not fit their organization,
  • others do not consider all employees, including those that are contractual/contractors. Some leaders, regrettably, take an “us/them” approach that fosters an environment that is less than respectful.

Lastly, sometimes it isn’t enough to provide respectful workplace training and do the minimum.  Assessing your workplace needs is essential and once an organization meets the legislative requirement, it is important to develop a workplace culture that fosters diversity and inclusion.  This is where the real stuff happens!  Leaders need to pay attention to employees and become more culturally aware, observing and listening and conducting themselves and their business in a manner that accepts cultural differences, with no judgement, leading by example.  Using this approach can help prevent cultural conflict in the workplace which can be perceived as harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

Often, success occurs in organizations where they have developed a respectful workplace that integrates culturally literate and aware leaders and employees.  This helps eliminate misunderstandings and workplace conflict and can create a better work environment where employees understand and respect others who are different from themselves.  Not only is it the right thing to do; it’s good for business!