Gag-orders and the open-door policyIn order to crack the Weinstein case open wide, Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) were broken. Since then, it has come to light that legal contracts such as NDA’s have been used on an unprecedented scale to stop individuals from sharing their experiences of harassment, bullying, bias, and discrimination (among other forms of misconduct) outside of their organisations. For those not subject to NDA’s, a key deterrent for reporting workplace misconduct is the worry that individuals will be treated differently (or dismissed) as a result. This points less to an inability to speak than an inability to be heard.
For most companies, a complaints procedure (such as an open-door policy) is in place but tends to come with the less-well advertised caveat that you cannot control what is done with the information thereafter.From a psychological perspective open doors, while well-intentioned, are often hidden behind several closed doors, making them more of a tick-box than an active solution. Where organisations have tried to be more forward-thinking, results have varied. Legacy technology such as anonymous complaints ‘hotlines’ were intended to better protect employees in the workplace. What was not predicted was how quickly this technology would run its course – although satisfactory in the first instant (for employees could anonymously report misconduct), cases quickly dissipated as HR teams struggled to share updates on internal inquiries on account of the reporter’s anonymity and individuals were discincentivised to call a third party call centre to file a complaint. Companies either abandoned the idea or left it in place, forgotten, as a checkbox solution – Lloyds of London were exposed last year for the inaccessibility of their hotlines for 16 months due to unpaid phone bills. There is a need to replace outdated and ineffective approaches with new, innovative solutions enabled by modern technologies that tackle the highly publicised failings of HR departments all over the world; the negative implications of reporting misconduct must no longer outweigh the positives.
The Weinstein effectIn the wake of October 2017, a movement began in which women began making public allegations of sexual misconduct carried out by famous and powerful men around the world, particularly within politics and the entertainment industry. With this, came a number of high-profile allegations and dismissals (including Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar), causing the ‘untouchable’ status-quo of this particular group to waiver.
The #MeToo movement which followed empowered individuals to speak up about their experiences in huge numbers at all levels of society. This looked to tackle the figures produced by the EEOC in 2016 that highlighted up to 75% of workplace misconduct goes unreported.We must recognise, however, that new forms of misconduct are threatening to undo the progress made in the last few years. Forms of misconduct are evolving and becoming harder to monitor; around 30% of UK respondents to a Totaljobs survey in 2018 said they had been victims of workplace discrimination on corporate messaging platforms, and the recent move to remote working could see this become an even bigger threat.
Reinstating workplace cultureWeinstein’s case has brought to the fore the failings of HR departments and in-house reporting procedures for companies of every size, in every industry. Not enough has been done to address these failings at scale; in February this year, the Trade Union Congress revealed that two-thirds of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed at work. When trust in traditional institutions such as government and media is at an all-time low, employees are turning to their employers for guidance and direction. But this relationship is also being tested like never before. Clear and transparent procedures must be put in place that allows all individuals to be treated equally, without fearing the repercussions. Legacy tools must be retired in place of new, versatile and scalable technological solutions that provide anonymous reporting tools and keep a backlog of historical complaints, changing the way people come forward. Only then will HR departments be able to pursue cases with conviction and see real results, restoring trust between employees and their organisations.
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