The Cost of Training vs. the Cost of Workplace Misconduct

While the cost of employee training may total a few hundred or few thousand dollars, it pales in comparison to $20.2 billion. That staggering figure is what workplace misconduct cost U.S. businesses in 2021.

And a majority of U.S. office workers—75 percent—"have experienced or witnessed some form of workplace misconduct during their working lives,” according to a study published by Vault Platform, a workplace misconduct reporting platform.

This leads to some compelling questions:

How is this happening?

Why are the costs so high?

What can I do to protect my organization and workplace culture?

As a leading provider of online training for new employees in the multifamily housing sector, we can offer some explanations—and solutions.

Read on.

A destructive domino effect

The costs are monumental because workplace misconduct – which includes bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment – hurts everyone.

To be clear: harassment hurts the victim(s) most. Victims of sexual harassment and bullying can experience a multitude of mental and physical health problems, often lasting years. Effects include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, high blood pressure, weight problems, heart problems, insomnia, and more.

In addition to individual harm, there are widespread impacts on the organization.

As misconduct goes unchecked, losses mount: in absenteeism, lost productivity, lost time, lost money in legal fees and compensation to victims, lost trust and morale, and lost credibility in the industry and community.

When morale declines, high-performing employees look elsewhere. According to Glassdoor, 77 percent of workers surveyed in 2019 cited ‘company culture’ as a factor in their job-seeking. And 95% of workers surveyed by Monster reported ‘cultural fit’ (defined as work style and values) as being ‘important to their happiness’ at work.

Sexual harassment can have a devastating snowball effect. In an NBC News report titled "The Hidden Health Effects of Sexual Harassment", employment attorney Nannina Angioni called the behavior a "slithering snake that ripples its way through a work environment causing disastrous results."

Sexual harassment isn’t (always) what people think

You also might wonder why this issue persists, despite high-profile court cases, media attention, and increased general awareness.

Shouldn’t we all know better by now?

Isn’t respectful behavior just common sense?

Many workplaces have anti-discrimination and harassment policies clearly stated in their employee handbooks. Isn’t that enough?

Unfortunately, no.

Make no mistake: There is a lot of misunderstanding as to what harassment is, what it looks like, and when and how it occurs.

For example, did you know that even a single incident can create a “hostile work environment," as defined by law?

Or that demeaning comments about someone’s gender—even “jokes” or general statements—can constitute sexual harassment?

Many people also are surprised to learn that federal law prohibits sexual harassment not only between employees, but by vendors, customers, and third-party contractors at your organization.

The problem is not general awareness. The problem is specific understanding.

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

Misunderstandings may happen, but the law is clear.

And good leaders and managers can feel blindsided by misconduct allegations, especially if the organization is doing its best to establish a quality working environment.

But what about the contact that occurs electronically—well outside the workplace—via chat, text, social media, and email? Just because harassment occurs off the clock doesn’t mean it’s out of the company’s hands. Content on personal social media accounts can and has been used in evidence as sexual harassment cases proceeded to trial.

Given the magnitude of the problem, how do well-intentioned leaders head off potential misconduct and deal with incidents that arise?

The answer is education

Safe and productive environments are ones where everyone knows and practices the standards of conduct.

In an interview with Forbes, employment attorney Molly Mauck noted that there are definite strategies employers can use to discourage workplace misconduct.

“Business leaders, supervisors, and employees should be educated on all forms of discrimination and harassment, the adverse effects it could have on individuals personally and the company as a whole, and how to address those complaints when they arise,” she said.

While it’s not possible to control the behavior of everyone who interacts with an organization, leaders can create an educated, empowered workforce—a place where people feel safe, valued, and free to focus on their work.

Ready to learn how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment? HAI Group Online Training offers a comprehensive course that employees of all levels can benefit from. 

Includes copyrighted material from a company under the HAI Group family, with its permission. This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice, and shall not be relied on as such. We strongly recommend consulting with legal counsel or an appropriate subject matter expert.

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