For a company or organization to work like a well-oiled machine, people need to feel safe. Without trust, you won’t go far. Therefore, you certainly don’t want your employees to step into the building with feelings of anger, fear, frustration, or resentment. The environment is supposed to empower employees to become better and productive, not fearful and unsure.
Everyone deserves to be respected—especially in the workplace where professionalism, regardless of the industry, is usually the standard. This is also true for startups. Even though an office is technically a shared working space, each employee deserves to feel comfortable and safe within its corners.
If you’re running a startup business, you have to make sure that you are taking deliberate steps to set up policies that can prevent and address workplace harassment. This initiative must begin from top to bottom. Here are a few things startups must know regarding workplace harassment:
1. It Can Affect Your Reputation
You don’t have to look too far to understand the power of a strong corporate image. Look at brands like Nike, Adidas, Apple, Rolls Royce, and Ferrari. These brands stand for certain attributes and people associate themselves with these attributes (e.g., quality, reliability, and toughness). Furthermore, brand image matters even more for startups, since you have to gain credibility and trust among the general public.
Besides the fact that a damaged reputation affects how people perceive your business, dealing with a public relations crisis is difficult, costly, and time-consuming for your business. If a workplace harassment claim goes viral, your company will be in the limelight and will be answerable to stakeholders and the public at large.
That being said, you need to realize that regardless of the composition of your startup team, you need to ensure that respect and equity are core values that everyone must hold to a high standard. Business isn’t just about making profits; it’s about doing it the right way too.
Look at McDonald’s, for example. The backlash that the big fast-food chain has faced over workplace harassment claims is proof that your reputation can be damaged just as well. No company is exempt, and the negative effects are very hard to quantify. Therefore, you need to guard your reputation at all costs because workplace harassment claims can derail your company quickly.
2. Affects Productivity
If a workplace harassment issue arises and a strike occurs, your business operations will be disrupted. The workers at McDonald’s went on strike for one day. That definitely affected their production and profits. So, don’t underestimate the power of workplace harassment in terms of negatively affecting your bottom line.
Furthermore, it could cause employees to have low morale and feelings of resentment because they’ll feel that the management doesn’t seem to care about their welfare. Feelings of resentment are expected when employees keep on reporting an issue that’s constantly ignored. This will weigh heavily on their mental and emotional well-being, and will eventually affect their mood and productivity at work.
3. Lawsuits Are Costly
Harassment claims may most likely lead to the filing of lawsuits against your business. Depending on the nature of the harassment claim, you may end up having to pay a lot of money. Given the sensitivity of the topic, there’s no guarantee that you will win a case even if the defendant has evidence to back themselves up.
Nonetheless, the point is, prevention is better than cure. Your business needs to have a system in place that holds offenders to account within the organization itself. A workplace harassment policy will help to address this.
4. Open Communication Must Be Encouraged
If workplace harassment occurs, employees need to be able to speak out freely and without fear. It’s possible that if an offender is part of the managerial team or is occupying an executive position, it gets difficult for a victim to report them out of fear. As mentioned, a workplace harassment policy will provide an extra layer of protection for those who would report such cases.
But policies are not enough. Your startup must also cultivate a culture where employees can feel safe to speak up about their personal sentiments. For example, if an employee feels uncomfortable because a coworker keeps touching her shoulders, then she must be allowed to tell off that coworker without the fear of retaliation.
Running a startup is not easy. Building and marketing a new business requires a lot of time and effort. But amidst all that, the welfare of employees should also come first. Cultivating a company culture that upholds respect, equality, and accountability can help prevent incidents of workplace harassment.