Creating a Risk-Sensitive Work Environment

September 3, 2019

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A recent study by Katy Robinson, a Ph.D. student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, examined how #MeToo issues are handled in the workplace and how employee communications and explicit systems for reporting sexual harassment were integral to creating a low-risk environment for both employers and workers.

Robinson, who is also a research editor for the Institute for Public Relations’ Organizational Communication Research Center, found that organizations that regularly communicate to employees that sexual harassment is not tolerated have fewer incidents of harassment.

She offered three recommendations in light of the findings: First, she said companies should always take employees’ questions and concerns about sexual harassment seriously. Second, companies should provide all employees with annual training on sexual harassment and how to report it. And third, she recommended that companies should communicate consistently that they care about their employees’ well-being and are committed to equality in the workplace.

Fostering an internal culture of equality and respect is important; just as important is creating an organizational culture in which people at every level are sensitive to sexual harassment as well as the multitude of other risks that imperil an organization’s reputation and welfare. When companies create risk-sensitive corporate cultures, they motivate their employees to become part of the solution.

Employee bias toward action

In risk-sensitive company cultures, employees believe that protecting corporate reputation and welfare is everyone’s job. They understand they are part of a larger risk-management system and are equipped with tools and information to detect, assess and respond to the myriad risks they encounter in their day-to-day work before those risks can lead to big problems.

Employees in risk-sensitive company cultures are biased toward action, not inaction. When they see something, they say something. Here are three ways to help create a risk-sensitive culture.

Communicate clear expectations and guidelines. Make sure employees know what’s expected of them when it comes to safeguarding the company’s reputation. Give them tools and training so they will understand what to look for and what to do when they see potential problems, whether in their own direct areas of responsibility or elsewhere.

In strong risk-management cultures, employees take ownership of their own risks as well as those of their colleagues. They understand the process for calling attention to issues when necessary, and the potential costs — reputational and otherwise — of not doing so.

Serve as role models. Train managers to serve as risk-management role models by being available, approachable and supportive when problems surface. Managers should properly address whatever issues arise, rather than point fingers or cover their tracks.

The time to analyze what happened, why, and who or what was responsible will come later. Use failure as an opportunity to fine-tune internal systems and training. Recognize successes to reinforce best practices.

Keep values front and center. To create a risk-sensitive company culture, communicate the organization’s values and provide them to employees as a moral compass for when they’re making decisions. A company’s mission and values give workers a uniform framework to guide them through the risks presented by a particular situation, decision or action. A company’s values also provide employees direction about whether risks should be identified and protected — as with an HR issue — or receive further scrutiny before measures to counter them are implemented.

Jon Goldberg

Jon Goldberg is founder and chief reputation architect of Reputation Architects Inc., a reputation risk-management and strategic-communications firm dedicated to building, protecting and restoring reputations in a world of diminished trust. He serves on the Executive Committee of PRSA’s Counselors Academy.

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