After Weinstein: Reinventing Workplace Communications to Encourage Appropriate Behaviour

Guest Post: Phyllis Zimbler Miller, Enplug

The way we communicate in the workplace on the topic of appropriate behavior is clearly broken. Nothing shows this more clearly than the alleged sexual transgression charges against Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, and Roy Price.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Of course, companies have policies against sexual harassment in the workplace. And that is, unfortunately, all these are — policies — with often no bite behind the bark.

The psychological and cultural reasons for inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by both men and women are beyond the scope of this post. What is relevant here is how internal communications can be improved to help eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace (as well as outside the workplace).

Let’s imagine the business-as-usual approach to sexual harassment company policies. Employees probably sign a policy of understanding when they join a company — along with signing other forms on a variety of matters — and are never again reminded of these sexual harassment policies. For most of us in this age of 24/7 digital bombardment (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texting, emails, etc.), we are lucky to be able to recall what we had for lunch two days ago. Recalling a sexual harassment policy paper we signed once, perhaps years ago, really?

Yes, companies with more robust sexual harassment training may hold a yearly seminar on what is — and is not — appropriate behavior. How many employees walk out of the seminar and immediately forget what they have supposedly just learned? Or equally as likely, not realize that their “innocent” remarks about which people in the office they’d most like to sleep with actually constitute sexual harassment.

Front And Center Messaging

The truth is that, in order to change inappropriate behavior, specific examples of what is and is not appropriate must be top of mind. And to do that — the information has to be front-and-center of internal office communications.

But not as a weekly email reminder — DELETE without reading — or a mention in the monthly company newsletter/magazine — who reads that company propaganda anyway?

The power of storytelling to communicate important cultural information is well known. Humans relate to other humans.  Learning specifics about sexual harassment and how, for example, it can destroy a person’s feeling of self-worth can go a lot further to change unwitting behavior than a poster in the company break room that says: Zero tolerance of sexual harassment allowed here.

And this is where the same medium that bombards us all  — digital inputs — can be used to change the workplace environment to an actual zero tolerance environment.

Making It Clear What’s OK, And Not

Imagine getting buy-in by holding company-wide contests to create the best sexual harassment information graphics and videos. These would then be displayed via digital signage software on large display screens throughout a company’s offices. Displaying visually captivating graphics and video scenes of correct and incorrect workplace behavior can make it much clearer what is not appropriate. Yes, the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind. And this is a cliché because it’s true!

(A famous WWII poster said LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS. Companies could display a digital signage graphic that says LOOSE HANDS SINK CAREERS.)

With sexual harassment information streaming on screens in a frequent rotation, company executives could no longer say that what is acceptable behavior may not have been clear to a alleged offender. And potential offenders may be stopped in their tracks by seeing their proposed actions displayed on large screens and defined as INAPPROPRIATE.

Digital signage displayed on large TV screens throughout a company’s offices is not the complete answer to changing toxic sexual harassment workplaces. Yet it is a good place to start — with continually rotating explicit (but not R-rated) content demonstrating what is and is not appropriate.

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