A successful training program might result in an increase in sexual harassment complaints in the short term as more employees feel empowered to report misconduct, but an elevated level of complaints for an extended period may indicate the training hasn't helped, Perry says.
Employees should learn about company policies and laws relating to sexual harassment, procedures for filing complaints, and expectations of behavior for all employees, says Chris Kilmartin, Ph D, a psychologist and emeritus psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Bystander intervention training also may help increase a sense of accountability, where employees are expected to speak up and even file their own complaints when they witness sexual harassment involving another employee.
A toxic work environment can lower productivity and increase turnover and absenteeism, with employees less engaged in their work.
"A hostile environment affects the whole organization, not just the people who are harassed," Kilmartin says. Training can be engaging, with real-life scenarios, rather than forcing employees to watch a dated video with stilted vignettes.
Conducting a one-time training for new employees is ineffective and is usually just window dressing by companies seeking protection from lawsuits, says Columbia University psychology professor Elissa Perry, Ph D, who has researched sexual harassment training programs. It's an abuse of power problem," says James Campbell Quick, Ph D, a professor of leadership and management at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"It's not just about providing one training and you're done. If they are only doing it for legal reasons, then they don't care if it works." Decades of research has documented the extensive damage suffered by victims of sexual harassment, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, job turnover and post-traumatic stress. Quick has researched sexual harassment for more than two decades and co-authored a recent article that examined advances in research and the changing dynamics of sexual harassment.
Companies should use sexual harassment training programs that include pre-training, training and post-training components at the individual and group levels, Perry says.
An anonymous employee survey or audit of the workplace before the training can be useful in identifying the extent of sexual harassment.
"Basically, it poisons the organization." Kilmartin has served as a sexual harassment training consultant for many organizations and the armed forces, including the U. Kilmartin used his chops as a stand-up comedian to incorporate humor into a sexual harassment training video he wrote for the Army.
In the video, a clueless soldier is dressed down by a sergeant for telling sexist jokes.