Discomfort may arise when friendly boundaries between colleagues become unclear. Here's advice from the experts at Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) if you spot such a situation.
Creating a workplace where employees feel safe and respected is one of the first steps to attract and retain talent. This means there should be zero tolerance for harassment at work such as verbal abuse, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and stalking.
This is especially important for small business owners who may often face stiff competition from bigger and reputable companies when recruiting and retaining their best talent.
Here are some tips to help SMEs put in place processes to root out inappropriate workplace behaviours and create a safe and harassment-free work environment:
1. Be conscious of behaviours that may lead to a toxic work environment
Within close-knit SMEs, informal working relationships may be the norm as staff are on familiar terms. But discomfort may arise when friendly boundaries between colleagues become unclear, leading to behaviours which may cause distress.
When offensive behaviours persist, they create a hostile and unsafe environment that may lead to harassment in the workplace. Business owners must consciously look out for and root out inappropriate behaviours to prevent a toxic work environment.
2. Establish clear expectations and hold all employees accountable
Lay down clear guidelines from the start on what constitutes unacceptable behaviours in the workplace and communicate them to employees.
Establish channels through which employees can report harassment at work. Have proper whistleblowing mechanisms and robust response and investigation procedures to complement the guidelines. When rules are broken, actionable steps must be taken promptly while the identities of the complainant and alleged harasser should be kept confidential.
Resolve harassment complaints promptly by interviewing affected parties and witnesses and reviewing evidence to determine if the alleged behaviour constitutes workplace harassment. Regular progress updates and discussions of the investigation findings with the parties involved will ensure a fair and transparent process.
Do render support to victims. Should management establish wrongdoing, decide what actions may have to be taken against the harassers.
3. Designate alternate person(s) to take charge of harassment issues
SME owners tend to take on everything themselves, from accounting and marketing to human resources and business operations. But you may not be doing right by your staff if you are too stretched to look after their welfare.
One solution is to delegate someone to handle harassment issues. For example, a trusted management-level executive could be tasked with overseeing investigations and resolution of workplace grievances and to provide advice to peers on handling of harassment cases. This person should be trained to manage complaints of harassment effectively and objectively.
Alternatively, engage the services of a neutral third party to ensure that cases are expertly handled. Refer to the list of service providers here.
Change starts with you
Workplace harassment cases may go unreported due to a fear of retaliation. Such concerns may compel victims and witnesses to stay silent.
Follow the above tips so that your employees can feel protected every step of the way. Ultimately, an open, safe and inclusive office culture will encourage employees to flag instances of inappropriate workplace behaviour and, more importantly, work with you to prevent them.
TAFEP’s Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre provides advice and assistance to employers and affected individuals on workplace harassment matters. Visit tafep.sg for more information.
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