So much of the human resource professional’s workday focuses on time and attendance, hiring, and payroll compliance. All too often, the “human” side of Human Capital Management gets neglected in favor of day-to-day tasks.
However, compliance relates to many aspects Human Capital Management, from how you classify employees to the policies you have in place to ensure every employee is treated fairly and feels safe at work.
In a prior post, lawyer Jeffrey Ettenger discussed establishing sexual harassment policies that will protect your organization. The bonus? These policies can also improve employee engagement, morale, and retention by ensuring that employees feel safe and protected.
But there are other elements to consider. Workplace policies should foster a safe environment where all employees feel respected and valued.
Initiating policies that protect against workplace bullying, prevent discrimination, and encourage diversity can improve employee engagement and create a workplace that fosters creativity, innovation, and productivity.
Let’s consider what goes into anti-bullying, anti-discrimination, and diversity policies in today’s workplace.
1. Understand what does – and doesn’t – constitute bullying in today’s workplace.
Just as the definition of sexual harassment, and enforcement of sexual harassment policies, has changed in recent years, workplace bullying has also come to the forefront as a human resource issue to address.
“There are things we used to do and say in the workplace that are no longer acceptable,” Ettenger says. “As an employer you have to understand what bullying is and is not and how you can protect your employees.”
Traditionally, bullying was defined as physical acts of aggression or physical threats. Today, the definition may include gossiping about co-workers, teasing, and acts of passive-aggression. “Making employees feel disrespected or badly about themselves or causing mental anguish fall into gray areas of what bullying is and is not,” Ettenger says. He emphasizes, “People should come to work and feel respected and feel good about what their doing and about their workplace environment.”
He advises employers to be more proactive about monitoring and responding to the ways that employees treat each other. Ignoring bullying or acts that may be construed as bullying can reduce employing engagement, affecting morale and productivity.
What happens when the employer is the one perceived to be doing the bullying? Ettenger points out that employers can still reprimand employees or talk to them about sub-par performance. But there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed to avoid workplace bullying claims.
In essence, treat employees with kindness – even when delivering negative feedback – and foster a workplace environment where treating others poorly isn’t tolerated.
2. Build a diverse workforce.
Diverse workplaces benefit both employees and employers. A diverse, highly engaged workforce can bring about innovation and even industry disruption that could boost your company’s bottom line.
Steven Covey said, “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.”
Indeed, when a workplace creates an echo chamber of like-minded individuals, cognitive bias sits in. Management becomes resistant to change. Employee engagement may drop because employees are afraid to think creatively. Anyone with a different, potentially better, idea may be afraid to speak up for fear of ridicule or workplace bullying. Or they might just keep quiet, assuming their idea will be ignored. That is not an environment that encourages innovation.
Consider these statistics:
A Harvard Business Review studied discovered that diverse companies had 19% higher innovation revenues.
A McKinsey report showed that companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to surpass similar but less diverse companies.
Building a diverse workforce is not just good for your bottom line, though.
Failing to do so, beginning as early as the application process, can result in legal issuesyou’re your job applications or interview questions probe for information that would enable you to limit diversity or exclude certain groups of people, you could get in trouble.
“Each state dictates what you can and can’t ask in an application or during an interview,” says Ettenger. “As a general rule, most states no longer allow you to ask questions about age, race, background, or sexual orientation.”
He advises having an HR consultant review your job applications to identify any potentially inappropriate questions. Also make sure anyone interviewing candidates knows what they can and can’t ask in your state or city.
3. Avoid discrimination suits by promoting an atmosphere of inclusion, understanding the laws, and keeping proper documentation.
With a diverse workforce comes the challenge to ensure that all employees
are being treated fairly and feel respected in the workforce regardless of
factors like age, gender, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.
Solid workplace anti-bullying policies can help
lay out expectations for how employees and management should treat each other.
Make sure to give all employees a chance to share their thoughts and ideas in meetings.
And if you’re in the unfortunate situation of reprimanding, or even firing, an employee due to their workplace performance, document the employee actions or performance that led to your decision.
“You need to be able to defend your decision and show why that employee was treated differently not because of their race or age, but instead was treated differently because of their workplace performance,” Ettenger says.
A discrimination claim can result in a lawsuit that can cost a business owner tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“There are a myriad of laws that protect employees,” Ettenger says. “These laws are generally employee-friendly. They come with damages that include mental anguish, lost earnings, punitive damages, and, in almost all cases, attorney’s fees.”
A discrimination lawsuit can cripple a small or mid-sized business.
On the other hand, building a diverse workforce where everyone is treated with respect and kindness can help boost productivity and increase revenue, putting your business ahead of competitors.
Learn more tips for successful human capital management in a changing workplace by downloading Jeffrey Ettenger’s webinar here.