The workplace is undergoing a lot of changes. Many employees are returning to work for the first time after lockdown. Some businesses are merging teams or growing their workforce. Others have downsized and are now juggling the increase of work with a reduced team.
Changes, if prepared for, can be positive for a business but there is also a huge risk of inappropriate employee behaviour in all of the above scenarios. Here's why.
Why your workforce might fall victim to inappropriate behaviour
A return to work may mean employees have forgotten what constitutes appropriate workplace behaviour. They've developed new habits having worked in the comfort and privacy of their own homes and are likely to need reminding of what is appropriate and expected of them back in the office. It could also be the case that anyone who joined the company during lockdown and received onboarding remotely, didn't get a full briefing on in-office etiquette.
For those growing their workforce, it's important to ensure that new starters understand the company culture and values from day one. This is especially important if you're merging teams, as it's vital to establish a common ground early on so people feel like they belong.
Last but not least, those who have downsized may be feeling the pressure more than ever before. They are likely to be working longer hours to make up for the loss in staff and this can lead to employees taking shortcuts, such as not adhering to dress code, or getting worn out and stressed.
It's therefore more important than ever to reinstate and reinforce appropriate workplace behaviour across all businesses. But first, what counts as inappropriate workplace behaviour?
Examples of inappropriate workplace behaviour
Inappropriate behaviour can take many forms, and can be damaging to both the individual and the company if legal action is taken.
Making sexually explicit comments or gestures or sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
Viewing or sharing pornographic images or videos at work or on work devices
Displaying offensive material in the workplace, such as racist or sexist posters
Making derogatory comments about someone's race, religion, gender or sexuality
Bullying or harassing another employee
Stealing company property
Using work devices for personal use
Falsifying expense claims
These are just a few examples, but it's important to note that any behaviour that makes someone feel uncomfortable is likely to be considered inappropriate.
Why is this important?
Employees have certain rights when it comes to workplace behaviour. For example, they have the right to:
Work in a safe and healthy environment
Be treated fairly and with respect by their employer
Not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality or disability
Not be bullied or harassed at work
Receive adequate training and support from their employer
If they have any concerns that their rights are being breached, they should feel comfortable in speaking to their HR department or a solicitor about it.
Now let’s move on to what you can do about it if you identify any cases.
How to deal with a case of inappropriate workplace behaviour
It's important that your employees feel able to report any cases of inappropriate behaviour and know that they will be protected and that the reports will be acted on. To ensure this, you should have a clear and confidential process in place for reporting incidents. This could be an anonymous hotline or an internal reporting system.
Once a report of inappropriate behaviour has been made, it should be investigated sensitively and thoroughly. Speak to witnesses and gather evidence, such as emails or CCTV footage. Once you have all the information you need, you can decide on the appropriate course of action, which could range from a warning to dismissal.
Examples of appropriate action to ensure it isn't repeated include:
A formal warning
A final warning
Suspension from work
Dismissal from work
Referral to an external organisation, such as the police or a professional body, for further investigation or disciplinary action
It's important to take action quickly and consistently when dealing with inappropriate workplace behaviour. This will send a strong message to employees that such behaviour is not tolerated and will help to create a positive and productive workplace for all.
For the employee who has been accused of inappropriate behaviour, their rights are also important. They are entitled to a fair and unbiased investigation, natural justice and the right to appeal any decision made against them.
Of course, prevention is better than a cure so let’s look at how you can take steps to avoid inappropriate workplace behaviour in the first place.
How to encourage appropriate behaviour in the workplace
Here are some tips on how to do so:
Have a clear code of conduct in place and make sure all employees are aware of it. This can be done with regular and frequent company intranet or email communications; posters and notices around the workplace; one-to-one conversations with employees
Onboard new staff members effectively, making sure they are aware of the company's policies on appropriate behaviour.
Encourage an open and inclusive culture where staff feel comfortable reporting any incidents of inappropriate behaviour, with a clear process for reporting any incidents of inappropriate behaviour, as mentioned above.
Conduct regular training sessions on appropriate workplace behaviour. This could be an annual refresher for all employees or more frequent for those who are new to the company.
Invest in a good HR software system that can help you track employee behaviour and performance. This will give you visibility of any issues that may arise and allow you to take action quickly.
Have regular check-ins with your team to see how they're doing and if there's anything they need help with. This will show them that you're invested in their wellbeing and also give you a chance to nip any problems in the bud.
Enforce policies by having a clear and consistent disciplinary process in place. This should be made available to all employees, and should include details of how incidents will be investigated and what the consequences will be for those who are found to have behaved inappropriately.
Dealing with inappropriate workplace behaviour can be a difficult and emotive issue. However, by following the tips outlined above, you can help to ensure that it's dealt with fairly, consistently and effectively. This will create a positive and productive environment for all employees.
For more information or help in establishing policies concerning appropriate employee behaviour, Lodge Court is here to help you.