Harassment: What it can cost your business if you don’t take charge

Workplace harassment can result in damage to careers, health and personal lives – not to mention the impact of civil suits. Its’ negative effects don’t stop there but spread through an entire office with frequent absences, low productivity, high turnover, and lowered team morale that disrupt your business.

In a US.-Canada survey of managers and employees who had experienced harassment or bullying, University of Southern California (USC) researchers reported that:

  • 25% admitted they took their frustration of being harassed out on customers
  • 66% said their performance had declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization where they worked had declined

Clients can also be part of the collateral damage of negative workplaces. The same USC researchers conducted an interesting experiment; they staged a scenario where half the research participants witnessed a bank representative publicly reprimanding another employee for a minor mistake.

When questioned later, nearly two-thirds of those who had witnessed the negative encounter said they would feel anxious dealing with any employee of that bank as a result of what they observed, and only 20 per cent of those who had witnessed the encounter said that they would use that bank’s services in the future.

Taking ownership of the issue

What would happen if a Realtor – among the most productive in your office – was accused of harassment by someone in your office?

In your mind, would it make a difference if the one complaining was as successful as the person they were accusing? Or if they had the same professional credentials?  What if they were an office clerk or junior assistant?

Traditionally people with greater status (due to their reputation, job title, accomplishments, income) are shielded from criticism to a much greater degree than their colleagues with less status who may be ignored or dismissed; perceived as having less value to the work culture, and less influential.

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, for example, was coddled by his partners, colleagues, clients and employees for decades before he was publicly exposed for his abusive behaviours – some of which are allegedly criminal–before being ejected from his professional community.

Weinstein’s case illustrates that success and status are not necessarily measures of character, integrity and respect.

Brokers and Realtors alike owe it to each other and their profession to denounce harassing behaviours and avoid committing such abuses themselves.

Who do you call?

The difficulty for our members who experience harassment is that they do not have an employer to call on for recourse. As an independent business person, a Realtor is not protected by employment law. And Brokers don’t have the responsibility of an employer when it comes to Realtors, though they do have this responsibility with office staff and others on their payroll.

Still, even though Brokers don’t have the role of employer for Realtors, they are vulnerable to blowback if harassment is taking place between people working in their office. Certainly they can take the lead in helping to reduce the incidence of harassment among Realtors working on a team, or with other brokerage teams.

First step: Model good behaviour

  • Be the positive example in your office by modelling respectful, professional behaviour
  • Communicate openly and respectfully with others
  • Encourage people to talk to each other to resolve issues collaboratively
  • Avoid making jokes at others’ expense based on race, gender, religion, age, sexual identity, etc.
  • Make known your disapproval of this kind of negative, stereotyping humour
  • Ensure that every individual in your office is treated with fairness and inclusion
  • Avoid making negative remarks about people outside the office, including clients, especially within earshot of office members
  • If someone comes to you with a concern about harassment of any kind taking place within your scope of management, take it seriously and address it.

Second step: Prepare and prevent

Office managers should be aware of signs that could indicate (or result in) harassment issues in the office:

  • Lack of communication where people come to you for information or clarification rather than talking to their colleagues.
  • A tendency for some to use e-mail or text in situations where direct verbal communication would be the norm
  • Increasing number of “small” problems being brought to your attention.
  • “Cliques” (social groupings) forming that seem to exclude others for social activities during lunches, coffee breaks, or after work drinks.
  • More competitiveness being expressed among the team
  • An increase in bickering, nitpicking or blaming at meetings.
  • Less participation at meetings by one or more people.
  • “Turf” issues

Third step: Adopt a zero-tolerance harassment policy

  • Adopt a respectful workplace as a preventive measure against harassment in your business. The same guidelines apply whether yours is a small business or a traditional corporate structure with salaried employees—it begins by building respect, inclusion and trust.
  • Create a zero-tolerance harassment policy and share it with all persons working in your office and in your business. Post the policy in areas of your office where people can see it and distribute a copy to all the people working in your office.
  • Create a procedure for people in your office and your business to report incidents and complaints of workplace bullying and harassment to you and develop a process for investigating and dealing with the complaint before the problem gets worse.

Download these free helpful guides:

Business Owners Guide to Workplace Bullying

Create a Policy Statement in your Office

Workplace Bullying and Harassment – People’s Law School

Helpful Links:

BC Human Rights Commission – Workplace Harassment

The Board is asking Brokers to engage in an open dialogue about workplace harassment in your office so that we can learn more about what needs to change, and how we can help stop this behaviour from affecting you, and your business.  Please share your thoughts with us. Email: communications@fvreb.bc.ca