The Moral Stress of Speaking Up About Sexual Harassment

Stress at work often feels like par for the course, but when that stress is rooted in conflicting feelings about ethical obligations, it can be particularly damaging to individuals and organizations alike. This “moral stress” is associated with decreased job performance and satisfaction, increased absenteeism and turnover, as well as poor moral reasoning. Clearly these factors take a toll on individual employees, and they affect a company’s bottom line as well.

The recent #MeToo movement has shed light on a particularly insidious source of moral stress in the workplace—sexual harassment. Not only is it stressful to be the target of or a witness to harassment, reporting (or even trying to decide whether to report) such misconduct can cause extreme distress.

What can organizations do to promote a speak-up culture, one that limits sources of moral stress but also makes employees feel safe to report concerns? A good start would be returning to their roots: their core ethical values. While legal obligations and standards constantly evolve, our commitment to acting with respect, fairness, and integrity never should. With core values front of mind, employees and managers are empowered to act with moral courage.

Jane Miller, President and COO of Gallup and Trustee Chair of the Business Ethics Alliance, offers insight on how to reframe sexual harassment as an ethical issue. Check out her interview with Littler Mendelson, the largest law firm in the U.S. devoted exclusively to employment and labor law, as well as other helpful resources and literature below. 

 

Reading and Resources

  • “It’s the Culture, Stupid”: Transforming Today’s Sex Scandals into Tomorrow’s Strides for Women at Work” – A conversation with Gallup’s Jane Miller

https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/transforming-todays-sex-scandals-tomorrows-strides

  • Why Now? Hidden Brain Podcast, NPR

https://www.npr.org/2018/02/05/582698111/the-psychological-forces-behind-a-cultural-reckoning-understanding-metoo

  • Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, Harvard Business Review

https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive

  • Sexual Harassment Prevention Starts with Cultural Change, Society for Human Resource Management

https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/Pages/Taylor-California-Legislature-Sexual-Harassment-Prevention-Cultural-Change.aspx

  • MeToo Tools, Compliance & Ethics Blog

http://complianceandethics.org/metoo-tools/

  • “Talking in the Workplace: Tools for Dialogue around Challenging Topics at Work” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/talking-in-the-workplace/

  • “Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Work. But Some Things Do.” New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/upshot/sexual-harassment-workplace-prevention-effective.html

 

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