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How to build a respectful and harassment-free work environment
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How to build a respectful and harassment-free work environment


This involves enforcing an anti-harassment policy, fostering a safe and conducive culture, exercising sensitivity from the top, and improving employees' understanding, share experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

A safe and conducive workplace allows employees to carry out their work productively. To achieve this, employers can build up the organisation's ability to manage grievances and workplace harassment.

Harassment occurs in different forms, within and outside the office. In some instances, an individual’s behaviour may be construed as harassment even when there is no intention to cause harm, as perpetuators often fail to recognise that their behaviour is causing distress to others. 

Here are four ways to build a respectful and harassment-free workplace:

#1 Enforce an anti-harassment policy

An effective anti-harassment policy complements an organisation’s grievance handling procedures. It provides employees with ways to prevent and handle workplace harassment. This can include examples of workplace harassment and avenues for reporting them.  

As harassment can happen to anyone at work and involve supervisors, peers, and customers, employers should ensure that the policy is clearly communicated to all employees and indicate the available avenues for reporting e.g. anonymous whistle-blowing, HR or management. HR and supervisors should also be trained to identify and manage these incidents, and not to adopt a dismissive attitude as this could foster a culture of silence.

#2 Foster a safe and conducive organisational culture

Organisations need to proactively examine their corporate culture and consider if it fosters harassment and unprofessional conduct. For instance, they can review if their management is leading by example in condemning sexist remarks that may cause discomfort among co-workers. This would affect employees’ perception of whether the organisation is committed towards building a respectful workplace.

#3 Exercise sensitivity starting from the top

Individuals tend to perceive things differently and may be offended by comments or gestures that are not intended to offend. Perspective-taking is a positive habit that organisations should cultivate (e.g. how will others perceive my words and actions?). This encourages one to think before speaking or acting, preventing misunderstanding or gestures that may be deemed offensive.  

Train leaders to be more self-aware and consider how best to communicate effectively and sensitively in different scenarios, so they can model positive behaviours and condemn offensive ones.

#4 Provide opportunities for employees to improve understanding

Poor workplace relationships could be a risk factor for negative behaviours such as bullying. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, the lack of cultural understanding could lead to misunderstanding and perceived harassment (e.g. in some cultures, it is a norm to greet people with hugs and kisses). Organisations can create opportunities for employees to interact through activities to develop cross-cultural understanding.

Behaviours that are unprofessional and disrespectful, if left unchecked, affect an organisation’s reputation, morale, and productivity. Approach TAFEP’s Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre if you need advice and assistance on workplace harassment.

Visit for more information. 

Image / 123RF

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