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There are few more dreaded, cringe-inducing company announcements than yet another round of mandatory training that will take a bite out of your employees’ already limited time, energy, and attention.
Attitudes toward mandatory training are predisposed to a negative bias due to it’s mandatory nature. We hate to be told what we have to do, especially in an already typically stressful environment such as work.
This bias phenomenon makes the messaging around mandatory training announcements particularly critical. In the case of harassment training, even more so. Harassment at work is responsible for egregious harm, psychological and physical trauma, and loss of productivity and employers have an ethical obligation and practical motivation to ensure harassment prevention training is as effective as possible.
So, the question is, how do we effectively announce harassment training at work?
How to announce harassment prevention training
Core message: the need for sexual harassment training
At the heart of the messaging, employers must clearly communicate the why of the harassment training. One of the most effective means to do this is to demonstrate the impact, psychological and emotional, of harassment on co-workers. Helping employees understand the ways in which harassment impacts others is one of the most effective means to preventing it. Specifically demonstrating the reality of emotional trauma and increased suicide among victims of harassment is a meaningful way of showing the consequence of harassing behavior.
Positive and encouraging messaging
One mistake employers and training often make is focusing only on the negative in harassment prevention training. Approaching training with a long list of “do nots” and hand-slaps without any positive messaging is a surefire way to turn off trainees from the outset.
A far more effective approach is to wrap harassment prevention in a positive, empowering message that identifies each employee as a potential preventer of harassment, as allies of one another, and as ethically and morally capable individuals who have the power and ability to chart a healthy course through potentially harmful interactions.
Leadership buy-in sets the tone for everyone
The tone that company leadership sets when rolling out harassment prevention training is a crucial factor in the success or failure of the training. “The primary reason most harassment training fails is that both managers and workers regard it as a pro forma exercise aimed at limiting the employer’s legal liability, trainers and lawyers say.” (Noguchi, npr.org)
Leadership who personally embody and exemplify the messaging of the training will find much greater buy-in from their employees. This does not mean shallow parroting of bullet points and a lukewarm nod toward anti-harassment culture. Employees are adept at seeing through disingenuous corporate messaging and nowhere is that more true than in instances of mandatory training covering difficult topics. There is simply no room here for a leader who operates in a “do as I say, not as I do” manner.
A leadership team who genuinely believes in the messaging of harassment prevention, enthusiastically participates in it, and who leads by example in their interactions with employees will find a far greater foothold in the company culture and a richer behavioral return on the training efforts.
Meaningful, accessible, and interactive content
Lastly, the content of the harassment prevention training must be engaging and relevant enough to convey its important message to a wary audience of employees.
There is no shortage of 90s-era harassment DVDs, showcasing painfully corny scripts. The attention span of the average adult has only diminished in recent decades, and trying to convey anything meaningful with dated, boring content is doomed for failure.
Effective harassment training will be well-produced, interactive, dynamic, modularized, and broken into digestible, succinct portions. The training medium should be web-based, flexible (able to be completed off-cycle, when the employee can best schedule it into their day), and should track the employee’s progress in a clear manner for both them and their managers to report on. For example, the training sessions offered by WiseDaily could be done in between meetings on an employee’s phone.
Gamified platforms offer a unique take on harassment prevention training that is particularly relevant to the younger, predominantly web-native generations. And, generally, they provide excellent reporting and statistical data to employers regarding employee engagement.
Sample mandatory harassment training announcement email
Assuming you have addressed the critical elements of core and positive messaging, exemplary leadership tone, and quality delivery ahead of time, the last piece of the puzzle to kick off your mandatory training is the announcement. Announcing mandatory training should be brief, positive, and to the point. Here is a sample for you to adapt as needed:
Email subject line:
Training invitation: Harassment Awareness
Dear <Employee Name>,
You’re invited to join your team in completing a harassment awareness training.
This brief, online course will take approximately <number> hours to complete, and can be done at your own pace.
Our people are our most valuable asset here at <company name> and the goal of this training is to empower you as an individual to be a culture leader and to create a safe, inclusive environment. This course will provide a framework to help you quickly identify harmful behavior as well as a set of tools to safely prevent and report harassing behavior.
To complete this course:
<Platform specific access instructions>
To help meet our company policy deadlines, please complete this course by <due date>.
It’s essential that we all take steps to protect and improve our company culture and completing this training is a huge step in the right direction. By doing so, we can help maintain a safe, respectful environment for ourselves, our business partners, and our customers.
We deeply appreciate you and your committed leadership and, as always, welcome any feedback you have as you complete the course.
Thank you for making <company name> an incredible place to work!
Messaging tone, leadership, and the delivery platform are all crucial aspects of announcing and conducting mandatory training. If the training you conduct reflects an open, growing culture, then implementing it should be a relatively small step along the way to building a safer workplace.
If you find entrenched resistance to harassment prevention training, take a hard look at the way it is being presented and who is presenting it. Acceptance or rejection of harassment prevention training may be useful in identifying other areas of cultural improvement and opportunities for creating a safer work environment for all.
Sexual harassment and suicide, BMJ 2020; 370 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3330 (Published 02 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3330
Noguchi, Yuki. https://www.npr.org/2017/11/08/562641787/trainers-lawyers-say-sexual-harassment-training-fails