I blogged about this particular arrow in HR’s bow a little over a year ago, here. It bears mention again, as I continue to see it as such an impactful tool for employers. What is sensitivity training exactly? It can go by many different names (e.g. respect in the workplace training, management skills seminar), but it boils down to this: senior level employee (think doctor, lawyer, professor) who did something wrong or is suspected of some kind of bad behavior sits down with consultant (yours truly) for a couple of hours. The upside: the employer has engaged in required “corrective action” and not simply ignored a potential problem. And, said employee is educated, scared, counseled, coached, and/or therapized (not actually a word but you catch my drift). The downside? I honestly can’t think of any. One more bonus: it’s quick and (relatively) painless.
Suppose you have successfully responded to a workplace complaint by conducting a prompt and thorough investigation and reaching findings of fact (or, better still, you outsourced the investigation to Warren & Hays). The investigation found an employee violated the company policy prohibiting harassment or discrimination. What is your next course of action? A notation in the personnel file? Yes, that’s most likely necessary, but not always sufficient. One-on-one “sensitivity” training can be an excellent resource.
It sounds good, but what is it, exactly? The offending party meets with an experienced third-party trainer. During the course of the meeting, the trainer reviews the company policy, provides a detailed overview of the legal landscape and how the offender’s actions fit into it, instills the fear of God in the offender (by raising the specter of such terrors as personal liability), and coaches the offender on how to best avoid similar situations in the future. The coaching portion of the session can provide the most helpful long-term gains, both for the employee and the employer. Murky areas such as management style, workplace communications, unconscious bias, and increased sensitivity are explored in an interactive way. The result is often a better informed, more aware supervisor who is eager to hone her new-found skills.
I often hear from the skeptical client, “but can people really change?” It is true that deeply-held biases and ingrained attitudes can be hard to shift. But it is just a true that behavior in the workplace can be altered by training, coaching and, yes, scaring offending employees.
On Friday, November 20th, Sindy and Jennifer will be speaking at the Taft 9th Annual Labor and Employment Law Update at the Embassy Suites Cleveland – Rockside on the topic of Dealing with Problem Employees.
Every organization has them – workers who are not productive, chronically complain, engage in bullying behavior, leave managers frazzled and frustrated, or are otherwise “problem employees.” Their effect on the workplace is all too well-known. They intimidate others, stimulate the proverbial grapevine, and generally distract from the business at hand. Friday’s session will help identify the various types of problem employees and provide practical advice for how to deal with them. We will provide employers with the knowledge necessary to legally and effectively minimize the effects of problem employees by not hiring them to begin with, managing their performance, applying disciplinary measures, and terminating them when necessary, all while avoiding any legal landmines that might arise.
Warren & Hays has helped employers with problem employees by training, conducting one-on-one sensitivity sessions, and mediating workplace dynamics.
Clients often ask if people can really change. What they mean is why invest in training – harassment, discrimination, supervisory skills, etc. – when people are just who they are? My typical answer is: well, whether or not you actually change basic attitudes, whether about race, gender, or other characteristics that are inevitably part of the workplace fabric, investing in training provides legal cover in the event problems (i.e., lawsuits) arise.
Saturday night a couple hundred Hall High Class of ’89 alumni gathered at a local watering hole in West Hartford, Connecticut for our twentieth reunion. Throughout the evening of reminiscing and catching up, I was struck by a few things. Some people looked, sounded, and acted exactly the same. Others, though, seemed to have been replaced with new beings altogether. Yes, the class clown was still cracking jokes, and the overly confident ex-football star was still bragging about how cool, rich, and handsome he supposedly is. But many, many others had changed. A lot. The shy bookworm was confident and engaging. The “ditzy” cheerleader was grounded, articulate, and sensitive. And so on and so forth.
I got to thinking about my typical response to questions about what workplace training can really accomplish. In addition to meeting legal requirements and affording affirmative defenses in the event of litigation, I’ve got another answer. Investing in training actually can — in some cases — alter attitudes, provide essential skills, and improve workplace relationships.
Women with advanced degrees are faring just as well as men in the economic downturn. Citing a report by the New York nonprofit research group Catalyst, The Wall Street Journal reports that women and men with M.B.A.s were roughly equally likely to be promoted or laid off. Among men, 36% were promoted and 10% lost jobs; among women, 31% were promoted and 12% lost jobs (the report considers the differences statistically insignificant).
This equality did not, however, extend to top-level executives where women senior leaders were more than three times as likely as their men counterparts to have lost their jobs because of company downsizing or closure. Gender-based stereotypes about leadership during tough times and limited access to informal networks and mentors may be partly responsible for the disparity, says Catalyst president and CEO Ilene H. Lang.
As a result, companies that pay a premium to recruit up-and-coming talent may not be effectively leveraging their investment in the leadership pipeline. Employers can protect their investment in recruiting and retaining high-potential male and female employees with effective performance management programs, sensitivity training, and keeping the focus on objective criteria rather than gender-based stereotypes.
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