How to Make Sexual Harassment Training Worth Doing

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By Alex Cooper

As a student pursuing a career in Human Resources, I have grown accustomed to the question of “Human Resources…like Toby in The Office?” The television show The Office uses satire to poke fun at stereotypes in the American workplace such as specific job positions, meetings, and much more. Unfortunately, HR has not been portrayed accurately in the popular television shows and movies thus leading to much confusion of what role HR plays in the workplace. Stereotypes of Human Resources, such as the police of the workplace and the people that fire employees, have only been perpetuated by characters in TV shows and movies, such as Toby the Human Resources representative in The Office.

In season two episode two, Toby is required to conduct a sexual harassment training for the employees at Dunder Mifflin. Unfortunately, the methods used for this training were not effective in changing the behavior of the participants, largely due to the format in which the information was presented. Toby used an outdated video as his delivery method, which is consistent with the sexual harassment trainings I have attended personally. Outdated videos that have been used year after year no longer stress the importance of preventing sexual harassment and are often not taken seriously. Especially in the recent years of the “me too” movement sexual harassment training is increasingly important for companies to take seriously. In this day in age an outdated video will no longer make the cut and have an impact on participants. According to Jeff Griffin in his article “Why workplace harassment training is important”, he explains that employers use harassment training to protect themselves against a sexual harassment lawsuit instead of taking the proactive stance of preventing it.

It is in the hands of sexual harassment trainers to make a difference in how these trainings are delivered. With the increased attention to sexual harassment in the workplace as the result of recent news it is an excellent time for employers to reevaluate their trainings to ensure they are compliant not only with the law, but also result in positive behaviors from employees. In order to do this, employers must make the content and delivery interesting and engage participants in meaningful reflection. Some ideas on how to make sexual harassment training more engaging include:

  1. Understanding the company culture and what makes other meetings successful for the organization
  2. Get the participants involved by using interactive exercises such as case studies and role playing. When participants take an active role in the training, they are more likely to be engaged in the session and retain more information
  3. Share anecdotes when appropriate
  4. Go beyond the obvious. Many employees understand the obvious forms of sexual harassment that have been taught for years and could gain valuable information about the more subtle ways harassment can manifest. With the increased of the use of technology in and out of the workplace, employees may not be aware that late night messages to coworkers or the use of certain emoticons can be considered sexual harassment even if the interactions happen outside of the workplace

The Office Season Two Episode Two: Sexual Harassment Training scene minute 12:37-13:38