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Evolving work culture in the wake of #MeToo

The #Metoo revolution has had many outcomes, one of which is on the culture at the workplace. There is a heightened awareness of unacceptable behaviour as well as a cognizance of the power of calling out such issues. Men and women alike, are aware of several more do’s and don’t’s of the workplace.

education Updated: Oct 30, 2018 16:35 IST
MeToo,work culture,corporate house
The #Metoo revolution has had many outcomes, one of which is on the culture at the workplace.(HT File)

“I am concerned,” sighed the CEO of a large business house in Mumbai. She was worried that her organization culture was becoming more divided with varied views on the management of people and issues due to sexual harassment. There was a sudden air of uncertainty of interactions between male and female colleagues with employees unsure of how friendly to be, or what to say and even a visible hesitation of being alone in a meeting room with the other gender!

“While we haven’t had any incident in our company, both men and women are wary around each other, causing stress and anxiety all around” she whispered. Her own hushed tone was evidence enough of her fear of the potential challenges she faced in refashioning the culture at the office.

The #Metoo revolution has had many outcomes, one of which is on the culture at the workplace. There is a heightened awareness of unacceptable behaviour as well as a cognizance of the power of calling out such issues. Men and women alike, are aware of several more do’s and don’t’s of the workplace. However, while it is pertinent that there is a strong awareness of sexual harassment norms and code of conduct, it is equally important to keep the atmosphere at the workplace healthy, stress-free and engaging. Unwarranted fear and overall negativity are not the intended outcome of this movement. If HR management & business leadership are to not allow the atmosphere to degenerate, here are some steps to be taken.

The Vishakha committee guidelines are extremely clear and specific on prevention of sexual harassment. All companies MUST create internal committees as per the guidelines and comply with all the procedures given. This must be CLEARLY communicated to ALL employees who must read and understand the policy in detail as well as sign an agreement of confirmation that they have done that. Regular sessions and workshops should be conducted for employees to realize unacceptable behaviours, complaint procedures and review mechanisms. Establishing strong systems and processes is key for a safe and honest working environment.

Sometimes, one cannot simply approach a committee or make a complaint. There are so many emotions, fear of repercussions, humiliation, etc. that one may need informal advisors. Companies can create a network of buddies and mentors who can be cross functional (so as to avoid conflict of interest). Having someone one can talk to will help individuals to be comfortable and analyse situations for what they are to decide the way forward. It can also help clarify doubts and reservations or proactively deter any harassment.

Some companies are considering having therapists internally for individuals to seek guidance and counselling to sort issues. This is especially for those who potentially have undesirable behavioural tendencies. Simultaneously, vigilance like security cameras, bright lighting in all corners of the office, transport for women at night, travel safety tips etc will need to get stronger. Other than that, HR should keep an eye out and preempt any untoward conduct or address noticeable discomfort of colleagues.

It is observed that many misdemeanours tend to occur during office parties & off sites. If a company is organizing a party or other events, it is their responsibility to ensure they take measures to avoid any unwanted behavior. This ranges from curtailing alcohol intake to timings of the party to even the lighting! While this may make it less fun, the idea is to avoid employees taking advantage of such events.

HR should create a culture of empathy & camaraderie among colleagues. Providing a secure and safe work environment will encourage friendship over amorous behaviour.

Constant reaffirmation of respect and trust among colleagues via team building games, workshops etc will help. Ensuring that here is more communication and disapproval of certain actions are brought up immediately.

(Author Purvi Sheth is CEO of Shilputsi Consultants. Views expressed here are personal.)

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 16:35 IST