How to Deal with Harassment in the Workplace

There’s been an unprecedented level of focus on harassment in 2017. In a very positive and dramatic fashion, both women and men are feeling the strength to come forward and share their experiences.

This is the result of a number of factors, from the “#MeToo” movement to the allegations launched against powerful figures in entertainment, politics and culture. Of course, the current political climate in the US is also upping the pressure to come forward. Thousands of victims—most of whom stayed silent for fear that they would be ignored or wouldn’t be believed—are taking that step into the light.

However, many thousands more who’ve been the victim of workplace harassment are still not sure how to take that same step. If you’re among this group, it’s extremely important that you understand a few things:

  1. You’re NOT alone.
  2. Your experiences ARE valid.
  3. You are NOT powerless.

Here are a few tips to help to take that step and seek a resolution to the issue:

#1. Take a Stand

Obviously, not everyone is going to feel comfortable confronting their harasser in real time. There’s no shame in this; in that moment, it’s more important to feel personally safe than to stand up against an abuser.

If you do have the ability to repel harassment, either verbal or physical, start by firmly—but calmly—telling the person that the behavior is not acceptable. Remember that harassment, whether sexual in nature or not, is a form of bullying. The individual wants to get you to react, so by shutting them down but keeping your cool at the same time, you can take that power away from the abuser.

#2. Get it in Writing

Keep a detailed journal of incidents. Include the date, location, the people involved, what was said or done by each person, and any witnesses. The more detail you can gather about the situation, the stronger your case will be.

You can go back to the witnesses and confer with them to make sure you have details right, but it might be better to simply keep things to yourself until you’re ready to go forward. Especially if you’re worried about reprisal, and you’re not confident that you can trust your witness to keep quiet. You want to get a truthful account.

#3. Utilize Company Resources

Explore different avenues available to you through the company. Some firms offer specific conflict-resolution experts like harassment advisors or mediators. These tend to be larger workplaces, though, and are usually focused in urban centers. If you’re not in one of these places, your main channel of recourse will probably be either your HR department or a supervisor.

Many people are worried that the company will want to downplay or hide issues. That a reasonable reaction; companies have an unfortunate history of protecting abusers at the expense of the abused, but that picture is changing. Most companies now understand that ignoring abuse is not just bad for individual employees, but the company as a whole.

Ignoring complaints leads to less productive and more stressed employees, with a higher turn-over rate. As such, most business leaders are waking up to the facts and are now much more invested in resolving problems with harassment.

#4. Encourage Change

You don’t have to be an island; instead, you can use your experience to help foment change.

Use what you’ve learned in addressing your own experience to help fine-tune your business’s existing channels and practices. Teach your bosses to be better employers by showing them how to identify and resolve problems faster. Of course, if the person involved is your boss, this can be a challenge. You may need to go to higher levels in the company to advocate for change, but it isn’t impossible.

Try to think of your employer as an ally here. They want the best organization they can build, and you offer useful insight to make progress toward that goal.