Five Tips for Eliminating Workplace Misconduct

If you’re like most human resources professionals, you want to create a workplace where misconduct can’t thrive — and that starts with a strong focus on culture.

Most people entering the workplace are looking for a positive, supportive culture. And whether they’re Millennials, Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, they know when they’re in a bad work atmosphere, even if they can’t describe it. As one employee at a top-ranked company puts it, “Culture is not just a poster (here).” Management is “extremely caring towards their employees as well as their customers. The company thrives on making their employees happy, knowing it will make their customers happy.”

Indeed, a caring work environment leads to happy customers — and it also leads to a workplace of minimal misconduct. So what can your organization do to create a culture of trust, one in which employee misconduct is addressed as soon as it occurs?

Here are five tips for eliminating misconduct in the workplace:

1. Foster a supportive culture.

Rather than trying to prevent misconduct, work to create a culture that makes employees feel safe, supported, valued, and productive. Smart businesses realize that before they can be effectively and sustainably compete externally, they have to be strong internally. Rather than creating an aggressive workplace in which employees are pitted against one another, foster a friendly, team-oriented community that encourages everyone to succeed. Misconduct can’t survive in the midst of a strong culture. It’s far less likely to show up, and when it does, supervisors and teammates will nip it in the bud.

2. Establish a strong anti-harassment policy.

Companies should also establish a strong anti-harassment policy, one that clearly defines misconduct and the consequences of engaging in this type of behavior. The policy should prohibit harassment or offensive conduct in any form. It should make it clear that misconduct includes actions both in and outside of the workplace that affect an employee’s work environment — and that serious offenses will lead to discipline, and ultimately discharge. Perhaps most importantly, the policy should have a mandatory reporting clause that requires all employees to report any offenses they observe, regardless of the perpetrator.

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3. Arm supervisors with communication skills

To reinforce a culture of trust, it’s also critical to proactively train managers and supervisors to develop good communications skills. Supervisors need to learn how to communicate diplomatically and tactfully to their direct reports. They need to handle difficult situations in a way that fosters mutual respect. And they must give and receive constructive criticism without creating conflict. The best way to educate your supervisors is through interactive, in-person training that allows them to practice these skills in a safe environment.

4. Create support and require check-ins

In addition to in-person training, organizations should create ongoing support systems that enable supervisors to apply their communication skills over time. What’s learned in a one-day training session will soon be forgotten unless it’s reinforced in the weeks and months that follow. Ongoing support groups offer managers and supervisors the opportunity to hone their skills while obtaining a much-needed forum to discuss and resolve difficult issues as they arise. Support groups also create a system to hold supervisors accountable for their soft skill development.

5. Share your results

Unfortunately, human resources can often take a back seat to production goals or revenue reports, making it more challenging to promote the tools and systems needed to enhance company culture. To build support, you need to frame their needs in business terms. How does communication training mesh with company values? What have other companies paid in legal fees for ignoring workplace misconduct? Moreover, as you build your programs, you should clearly and consistently showcase your results. Has employee retention increased since you began your efforts? Has the number of harassment complaints declined? What feedback are you receiving from employees? Consistently tracking and showcasing your results will help you obtain the long-term support needed to eradicate misconduct from the workplace.

Jodi Slavik is an employment attorney at Vigilant and provides legal counsel to West Coast businesses on employment issues, including training of HR professionals, managers, supervisors, and employees on a range of liability and leadership issues.

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