It has never been more important for organizations to enact purposeful agendas around workplace harassment and diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”). When implemented thoughtfully, high quality training programs can be vital and cost-effective tools for improving workplace culture while mitigating the significant risks the modern world carries.
Companies have long used training to meet compliance requirements. Harassment prevention training focuses on the difficult topic of sexual harassment, as well as other forms of harassment and discrimination. DEI training demonstrates how employees experience the workplace differently depending on their identities; how unconscious bias, microaggressions and other forms of exclusion cause harm; and how everyone can support DEI initiatives. Effective training should be deeply engaging and should reinforce your organization’s policies while providing practical tools for addressing issues that arise.
Traditionally, these issues have fallen to human resources, but in our current climate they represent enterprise risks that demand attention from the highest levels. It’s important for all risk and compliance professionals to grasp the real stakes of this training.
Understanding the Cost of Training
The true cost of harassment prevention and DEI training can be deceptive: it’s easy to focus on the price of obtaining the training, when in fact it is a small expense when measured against your total costs.
The first hidden cost to consider is the opportunity cost of your employees’ time while training. Like all-staff meetings costing thousands per minute, having everyone in an organization complete a training is inherently expensive. Employers are right to look for the highest quality training to ensure employees receive the greatest value and learning for time spent.
The cost of training administration is also easy to overlook. HR teams can invest significant time and money keeping records of completed trainings and managing annual and state-specific training for both employees and managers.
Online training has emerged as an option that delivers a consistent, convenient and impactful experience. Though training may cost thousands of dollars depending on organization size, it is powerful and easy to administer, especially with the shift to remote work.
Accounting for Risk
There is, however, even more to the cost story around this training. From a risk management perspective, these prevention costs are easily offset against the real risks of harassment and discrimination, or the failure of a company’s DEI efforts. There can also be a compliance component, depending on the state.
Of course, harassment and discrimination can have a lasting, harmful impact on those who endure it that organizations must consider first and foremost when planning prevention efforts. Beyond that, companies must consider the impact of costly lawsuits or administrative proceedings, in which damages and penalties can be significant if you lose, and legal fees in the hundreds of thousands even if you win. By adopting a comprehensive anti-harassment policy and providing adequate training, employers show that they’ve made good faith efforts to prevent harassment.
Training can even protect your company from claims for punitive damages, according to Kevin O’Neill, a principal at the employment law firm Littler. “If you have done effective training,” says O’Neill, “it has been deemed through case law to be one of the strongest mitigating factors to avoid punitive damages exposure.” The quality of training can also mitigate a company’s risk. High-quality training is a “huge element of proof and effectiveness when you have to show that you have done all that you could to prevent and correct the harassment,” says O’Neill.
Even more serious, however, are the indirect costs and risks to an organization, including:
- Employee attrition, lost productivity and depressed morale. Employees who suffer harassment or an unfair environment are likely to leave, and replacing these employees costs employers billions of dollars annually. Even when employees don’t leave, failure to reckon with these issues can harm productivity and hamper innovation and collaboration for the victims and their colleagues alike.
- Management and governance continuity risk. For years we’ve witnessed managers, executives, and board members resign for failing to respond effectively to harassment. This trend is only continuing.
- Reputation and brand risk. Stakeholders, as well as regulators and the media, have high expectations that organizations will prevent harassment and discrimination and, increasingly, demonstrate real improvements in DEI. No organization is exempt, which is why companies are retiring out-of-date and offensive brands despite the massive cost.
- Eroding customer and market position. Organizations that suffer reputational and brand damage can lose valuable customers and market positioning. The days when companies can remain neutral on these topics are over — your customers expect more.
- Vendor risk and insurance costs. Failure to cure harassment can also lead to increased insurance costs and companies to be cut off from vendor relationships.
If you think spending four or five figures to obtain high-quality training is expensive, consider the costs of not advancing a safe and inclusive culture.
Making an Informed Selection
Given these risks and costs, it is vital that you select the highest quality provider that meets your needs. The bar for these training programs is high. Content needs to approach Netflix quality we’ve come to expect from subscription streaming services, or employees will tune out — programs that rely on stock videos and images or green screens are not compelling and will fail to have the needed impact.
Moreover, it’s important to work with a provider that has deep experience and is able to create program content that can genuinely influence employees. Free or low-cost options can be appealing when budgets are tight. However, saving money in this way carries its own risks. Employees are increasingly vocal about negative training experiences relating to these issues, and companies can find themselves embroiled in social media crises simply by selecting a low-quality option.
Investing in high-quality, comprehensive training is about more than just reducing risk and liability. As Sarah Rowell, CEO of Kantola Training Solutions, says: “It also has the ability to change behavior, if not that of an egregious harasser, then that of bystanders, managers, front line supervisors or oblivious offenders.”
Courses that address cultural trends and engage learners in real-world experiences will prepare employees to identify and address workplace issues. Immersive training that goes beyond checking boxes can change corporate culture and how employees experience the workplace, leading to real, lasting change.