On-line training program on prevention of harassment
Evaluation by Nigel Lindup, Coordinator, UNOG Staff Coordinating Council Working Group on Harassment
The new on-line training program on prevention of harassment and abuse of authority has arrived! This article aims to analyse its treatment of harassment, on the basis of comments and questions raised by the UNOG Staff Coordinating Council’s Working Group on Harassment, and of my own observations as a staff member who has completed the training in English and in French.
The program was developed by a group of UN agencies, led by
UNDP, and in general the UNOG Working Group, which has been
working for 3 years for the implementation of harassment prevention
and protection measures, considers this initiative to be a major step
forward in this area.
The strong points of this compulsory training program include the following:
- It defines harassment and establishes a de facto policy as we await the promulgation of formal instructions (ST/AI), which are now being developed.
- It establishes the right of every staff member to a harassment-free workplace.
- It establishes the duty of the Organization to protect its employees from harassment.
- It establishes a specific duty of supervisors/managers to prevent harassment, and helps them to comply.
- It takes account of the cultural diversity of our workplaces.
- It suggests appropriate responses to situations of harassment.
Yet the presentation of harassment as such leaves something to be
desired. On the one hand, sexual harassment is dealt with in a very concrete
and exhaustive manner, but this type of harassment, despite its undoubted
subtleties, which are in fact quite well explained, is relatively easy to define
and illustrate. Moreover, it’s highly topical in the wake of the recent cases
involving high-ranking international civil servants; and lastly it may involve
criminal acts. Hardly surprising that the Organization places a certain stress
on the problem.
Psychological harassment (“mobbing”, or bullying), on the other hand, despite being far more widespread, is less familiar, less recognizable and more subtle, and therefore requires a well thought-out approach. The program certainly draws attention to four important aspects:
- A definition of harassment
- A description of the behaviours which may help create a situation of harassment
- The crucial fact that harassment is defined in terms of the impact of our behaviour, not our intention
- The consequences of harassment on the work environment of those directly affected
- However, on the whole the treatment of psychological harassment is the weakest point of this training program, which actually creates or perpetuates a number of myths about the subject and ignores the very real subtleties of these behaviours. As a member of the WG on Harassment I find this highly regrettable.
- First of all, the definition mixes up harassment and discrimination, leading us to understand that harassment may be “based on” certain attributes of the victim. Many, if not most, victims of workplace bullying would say that the treatment meted out to them has no basis whatsoever, and if only they could discern one they might find it easier to deal with.
- Nowhere is it mentioned that harassment often takes the form of apparently innocent actions which gradually destroy the victim’s personality. Drop by drop, like the water torture, they sooner or later produce a pathological reaction in the victim. We mustn’t forget that, in extreme cases, psychological harassment may lead to suicide.
- All the situations described show a female victim of a male harasser, which gives a false impression. Harasser and victim may be of either sex.
- There’s too much emphasis on sex and sexuality, which doesn’t help us to tell the difference between bullying and sexual harassment.
- One of the scenarios depicts a classic case of bullying, but the analysis given is totally misleading:
There is a picture of a female staff member with the body of a pig circulating in the office. Alterations of the pictures have been going on for some time and have been widely distributed. Is this harassment?
Yes. The picture to which the coworker’s face has been added is not sexually explicit. However, there is liability for harassment. The issue is that women have been treated differently than men and it could be considered harassment and discrimination.
That’s just wrong. The harassment in this case depends, not on the fact of some generic discrimination between “men” and “women”, but in the assault on the personality of the targeted individual, a destructive behaviour for which there can be no justification or excuse.
- Lastly, there are problems in the translation/transfer from English to French which affect our understanding and evaluation of the situations described. One line designed to highlight sexist stereotyping as a component of harassment reads in English “You’re a typical man!”, but is rendered into French as “T’es un homme bête” (“What a stupid man!”), which is merely an insult aimed at a specific individual and undermines the central aim of the scene.
Pass or fail? Well, a partial success, but frustrating. Those who tend to see
the glass as half-full will congratulate the Administration of the UN Secretariat
for having purchased the rights to the program from the agencies which
developed it, but the fact is that, in its haste to put it in place, it failed to take the
time to check that the approach adopted was correct.
I would like to encourage our Administration, therefore, to demonstrate its good faith and its desire to eradicate this scourge by consulting with experts in this field with a view to correcting the shortcomings of the program and making this on-line training a truly effective tool in the fight against harassment within our Organization.