Managers and leaders are not well-prepared to deal with harassment, bias, discrimination, bullying and other tough workplace challenges. Despite negative headlines in recent years and billions of dollars of lost shareholder value, organizations are continuing to struggle with how to handle these difficult issues.
pelotonRPM conducted a groundbreaking study utilizing a first-of-its-kind research approach based on live simulations to understand the core dynamics that are driving these workplace problems. Rather than relying on anonymous surveys that rarely reflect actual behaviors, pelotonRPM enlisted managers and leaders from a wide range of organizations — large, small and diversified by industry — to participate in proprietary, live, multi-part simulations of real workplace scenarios.
The study analyzed how managers and leaders navigate these difficult conversations using a powerful technology platform that captured detailed elements of the reporting process, from the specific language used to conversational tone and nonverbal gestures. With this unique approach, pelotonRPM was able to identify specific patterns of behavior and common mistakes that can cause claims of harassment, bias, discrimination, and bullying to escalate into culture-damaging incidents and, ultimately, costly and brand-damaging litigation.
“It’s estimated that 70% of all complaints are made to managers as opposed to HR or legal,” said Steve Wiesner, CEO of pelotonRPM. “The simulations showed that managers and leaders often lack the knowledge and critical skills they need to handle these situations effectively. They are exposing the company and, potentially, themselves to substantial liability. Ultimately, they are unknowingly contributing to an overall culture that is plagued with systemic misconduct, bias, and ineffective remediation.”
Key findings from the study show that when managers and leaders are approached by an employee with harassment, bias, discrimination or bullying complaint:
- Thirty-nine percent did not ask questions to identify potential witnesses to an alleged incident despite the ‘he said she said’ nature of many of these complaints.
- Forty-one percent did not ask questions, repeat key facts and clarify critical details, increasing the risk that managers will misunderstand or confuse critical aspects of the situation.
- Fifty-six percent did not explain the anti-retaliation policy or define retaliatory behaviors to the complainant, witnesses or the alleged perpetrator. This omission risks the reporter fearing negative consequences for speaking up and leaves the company vulnerable to a substantial claim.
- Twenty-five percent did not explain to those involved in the matter that the situation will be escalated to HR, often because they felt they had addressed the matter themselves or they were discouraged from escalating by the alleged perpetrator.
- Thirty percent did not detail specific next steps or explain that an investigation may be required.
- Fifty-six percent did not explain that their company has an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy at all, let alone explain the details of the policy.
Despite billions of dollars being spent on HR and compliance training each year, the current approaches have largely failed to change negative behaviors and prepare managers and leaders to handle these matters effectively. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) has stated that many training approaches may actually be making things worse.
“This study uncovers a missing link in current training programs which do not accurately replicate the nuances of real-life situations and do not result in genuine skill-building for learners,” Wiesner said. “After tapping into a large pool of seasoned managers, over 90 percent of our participants felt mistakes they made during live simulations taught them something new and helpful, and 95 percent felt live simulations were far more effective than traditional training programs. At the end of the day, we learn by doing, and live simulations don’t just provide a safe environment to practice these difficult conversations, they also reveal where leaders are repeatedly dropping the ball.”