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Your Respect at Work training is complete — now what? How employers can successfully “follow through” 

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Perhaps your workplace has recently rolled out a training course to educate employees about how to create and maintain a respectful workplace. Or maybe your organization is currently undergoing training and you wish to look ahead and consider what happens after the training is over. Whatever the case may be, it may be tempting to feel that the job is done, to feel confident that your employees now know how to behave, and that there will be no further issues. There are several reasons why this should NOT be an employer’s thought process, which I will expand on below. In this blog, I will also suggest several actions for employers to consider taking after a workplace training course is complete.

In the workplace, the phrase “follow-through” is typically used to convey the continuing of an action or task to its conclusion. But I find its meaning as used in the context of sports to be more relevant and meaningful.  In sports, the follow-through means to continue with one’s movement after the object (ball, disc, puck, etc.) has been thrown or struck. The reason for doing so is to help achieve maximum velocity and momentum, while simultaneously reducing the risk of injury. In a similar vein, employers should also look to continue with several next steps after respect at work training has concluded. This is critical in order to convey the right message within the organization, carry on with the momentum generated from the training, and prevent any “injury” (to reputation or by failing to meet any legal obligations that arose during or after the training completed). For example, failure to follow through after completion of a training course can lead to a false sense of security that any workplace issues have been resolved or prevented. It can leave employees feeling confused or abandoned, and it potentially sends mixed signals across the organization that the training was merely a formality.

Understanding the respectful workplace cycle

Before I dive into the suggested next steps, it is necessary to understand that the trajectory of moving toward a respectful workplace is not linear, but cyclical. One helpful way to visualize this is to borrow from a simple but effective concept developed by Janice Rubin and Christine Thomlinson1, by imagining a circle. At the top of the circle is the goal of most, if not all, workplaces, which is a workplace characterized by respect, civility, and little to no employment-related legal issues. To work towards achieving this goal, organizations move clockwise around the circle, introducing values (and possible legal requirements), such as a desire to be more diverse and inclusive. This is followed by policies and training aimed at enhancing and protecting these values.  Following the introduction or review of policies and training, employees may feel they have the tools now to articulate a complaint and seek accountability, as they should. Complaints should lead to resolution, which can include conflict resolution, workplace restoration, or investigations. Any of these resolution methods may lead to learning about inappropriate behaviours, or toxic workplace practices/elements. This in turn may lead to action to correct those behaviours/elements, which brings the organization back around to that ideal workplace.  However, as mentioned above, this is not linear; the process will cycle back in a continuous loop of improvement, as no workplace is perfect, or static. Janice and Christine have branded this concept the “RT Circle.”

So, what are some of the steps that an organization should consider taking after completing respect at work training?

    1. Investigate any issues that arise during or after the training

One of the first things that employers may need to address following the conclusion of respect at work training is to respond to any issues or complaints that may have been raised during or after the training (see my colleague Chantel Levy’s recent blog,which mentions reports of safety concerns raised by trainers and trainees during training sessions2). It is not unusual for participants to identify problematic behaviour after a training session, once they have been provided with the tools to recognize what may constitute appropriate or inappropriate workplace conduct. Sometimes these issues are even raised in the training session itself. Addressing these issues as they are raised is incumbent on employers and legally required. However, it is also important to do so promptly and earnestly because it signals to the rest of the organization that the values espoused in the training are actually shared by the organization, rather than just lip-service or a “box-ticking” exercise. As the RT Circle described above demonstrates, it is also an important step towards making actionable change to the overall workplace culture.

    1. Track employee feelings and attitudes after the training

Another step for employers to consider may be to follow up with some sort of survey for employees as a way to measure the effectiveness of the training.  A positive or negative response from participants may provide immediate feedback and indicate whether the needle has moved closer to, or further away from, a respectful workplace culture.

    1. Collect investigation metadata

In line with the idea of surveying attitudes after the training, another step for employers to consider is to track and monitor complaint data (if they are not already doing so) in order to see trends and patterns in the types of issues being raised. New complaints about a subject that was addressed during the training are a strong indicator that the training was effective, and possibly that more training in that area should be undertaken. Likewise, seeing a downward trend in complaints over time in a subject area that was covered in the training could also suggest that the training was effective in improving behaviour. My colleague Alison Griggs devoted an entire series of blogs to exploring the importance of collecting data.3

    1. Conduct regular policy reviews and refresher training

Lastly, training should not be considered a “one and done” endeavour. Maintaining a respectful workplace is a continuous effort, requiring on-going attention and learning. As such, employers are encouraged to schedule refresher training on a regular cycle so that concepts remain top-of-mind and better respectful workplace habits form.

In the same vein, an organizational policy review ensures that an employer’s system is structured to work the way it was intended. Awareness of the tools for creating and maintaining a respectful workplace can be achieved through training, but knowing how the tools work on a day-to-day basis is the job of policy. Periodically reviewing such workplace policies will help ensure that they remain accessible to employees and help to identify any barriers to their effective application and uptake.

In summary, it would be a mistake for employers to kick up their feet and stop all the good momentum (hopefully) generated from a well-delivered respect at work training course. Rather, it is crucial that employers follow through by reinforcing the values and concepts espoused in the training course, thereby demonstrating that this was more than a mere box-ticking exercise.

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1 Janice Rubin and Christine Thomlinson, Human Resources Guide to Workplace Investigations, 2nd edition (Canada: Carswell, 2018), at pg. 10.

2 https://rubinthomlinson.com/creating-a-safe-space-in-training-sessions-for-both-trainers-and-trainees/

3 https://rubinthomlinson.com/data-and-investigation-series-why-is-collecting-investigation-data-important/

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