How to Overcome Managers’ Discomfort in Addressing Bad Behavior

An overwhelming majority (87%) of surveyed employees worldwide agree that it is their managers who establish the workplace environment. Those frontline leaders can create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and safety—a positive culture that engages workers and encourages top performance.

But every manager isn’t equipped to make workplace magic happen. Consequently, nearly two-thirds of employees who describe their organizations’ cultures as poor are actively looking for new jobs.

"People managers have a major impact on workplace culture, so they must be properly trained and feel empowered to lead,” concluded a recent SHRM study. The recommendation? Training that aims to heighten managers’ effectiveness by including instruction in building trust and eliminating bad behavior.

Confronting Bad Behavior Makes Many Managers Uncomfortable

In the workplace, misconduct such as inappropriate jokes, suggestive comments, and unwelcome flirting is often ignored or dismissed as harmless. But left unchecked, these types of behavior can become illegal harassment. They can also undermine the well-being and productivity of those who would prefer not to be the target of the behavior or a witness to it. Recognizing behaviors that are unacceptable for work and addressing them early on is a leadership capability critical to building trust and setting a positive tone in the workplace. Unfortunately, many managers aren’t comfortable taking such actions.

Atana research—conducted for an update of the Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work training course —sampled managers’ beliefs about their roles in addressing inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature, and confirmed that discomfort is a widespread issue.

On a positive note, 85% of managers say that maintaining professional boundaries and addressing inappropriate behavior by employees is the right thing to do. Yet only 72% believe that doing so is expected of them. The finding is an important red flag signaling a lack of clarity about managers’ performance expectations when it comes to creating a respectful and safe work environment.

Managers’ misconceptions hold them back, too. Half say they believe that addressing inappropriate employee conduct interferes with their teams’ relationships, and a third say that acting to curb bad behavior has the potential to negatively affect their own relationships with team members.

When managers don’t understand their roles, harbor misconceptions about taking action, or don’t feel equipped to address bad behavior, the natural result is widespread discomfort.

Targeted Training Builds Manager Effectiveness

As the SHRM study found, effective managers “must be properly trained and feel empowered to lead.” Targeted learning interventions crafted to address the specific challenges managers face fulfills both of those mandates. Here’s how:

Because Atana found that managers lack clarity regarding when and how to enforce professional boundaries, the Once & For All, Manager course firmly establishes that when it comes to stopping sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at work, inaction on the part of the manager is not an option. The training speaks directly to managers, providing real-world examples that increase understanding of the roles they play in protecting their team members and setting the standard for a respectful workplace. Take a look at the scenarios below:

Inappropriate Behavior


Manager Intervention

Once & For All clips ©2018-2023, Atana

As the Atana survey discovered, managers who feel uncomfortable discussing inappropriate behaviors with their team members often have concerns that doing so could damage team relationships.

In fact, the opposite is true according to the latest research on organizational culture. In companies with the healthiest cultures, leaders not only address bad behavior, but they do so immediately. Managers and other leaders in firms with toxic cultures are four-to-five times more likely to ignore inappropriate behavior by employees.

Need more evidence? Take a look at what happened to fast food icon McDonald’s when sexual harassment was overlooked: HR's Role in Preventing Sexual Harassment: Learning from McDonald's

It’s clear that managers need to know how to recognize and handle inappropriate conduct. They must also be educated about the consequences (to the organization and to themselves and others) of ignoring or dismissing complaints. Discomfort that people leaders experience because of their misconceptions about taking action, or their insecurity about specific actions to take, cannot be permitted to cause harm to individuals or to poison workplaces.

Practical and intentional training designed specifically for managers provides instruction to help people leaders overcome their hesitancy to act and build the knowledge required to speak up with confidence. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of this strategy in preventing sexual harassment and heightening managers’ capabilities to positively affect the workplace environment.

Empower your managers to drive safety and respect at work with the latest high-performance training programs from Atana.

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