How to use People Analytics to combat unwanted behaviour?  

This article was originally published on CHRO. 

On your way to a more open and safe culture, where incidents are not covered up? Start by identifying the organisational culture as it really is. Irma Doze explains how.

Many CHROs are no doubt wondering about the present workplace culture in their organisation. Are the reports of transgressive behaviour that the organisation receives mere incidents or a symptom of the organisational culture? And might that, in turn, account for the low number of these reports?

An open culture is the main weapon against sexually transgressive behaviour

Relevant insights are mostly lacking, but they don’t need to be at all: organisational culture and perceived safety in the working environment are easy to measure. Doing so can lay the foundations for an open corporate culture and prevent a lot of transgressive behaviour.

Lately, one cannot open a newspaper without reading about employees leaving due to transgressive behaviour. October 2017 marked the start of the #MeToo movement, when allegations were made against powerful US film producer Harvey Weinstein, who supposedly sexually assaulted several women or pressurised them into having sex.

Harassment and gossip

In 2020, Dutch trade union CNV reported that 26% of workers has experienced harassment, gossip, being made fun of or other annoying types of behaviour at work. Research commissioned by the Human Rights Board in 2021 shows that 16% of Dutch workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace over the past 10 years. It is therefore inevitable that this topic is high on the agenda of many CHROs!

As an employer, you obviously want to do everything in your power to prevent violence, discrimination, bullying and unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace (by colleagues, suppliers, customers and other external relations). Naturally, you have had HR draw up a policy laying down standards and rules of conduct, which you have then shared with your employees.

You have probably also appointed one or more confidential advisors and set up a complaints committee. But how can you be sure that transgressive behaviour no longer occurs in your organisation? Or that they are mere incidents rather than part of a culture that includes behaviour of which people are unaware it exists or which they have already come to think of as normal?

Culture survey

The day after the notorious BOOS1 episode, I received a call from a relation who works as Confidential Advisor in an organisation. The General Manager had asked whether similar issues also occurred in their organisation. After all, you can’t be sure if you only rely on reports. 

The threshold to report an incident may be too high, for example, or the working environment may simply not be safe enough to report anything at all. In short: if employees think: “As long as I want to work here, I will just have to accept this; this is just how people interact here.”

Anonymised qualitative and quantitative research can help, not only to map the situation, but also the culture as a whole. A culture survey maps the behaviour that employees perceive around them in the organisation. It also measures the desired values and the values that are (or should ideally be) absent. You can think of a company culture survey as a personality test at the organisational level.

Although it is often said that it can’t be measured, culture does express itself in observable characteristics, such as the current leadership style, adherence to rules and procedures and interaction between employees. Apart from that, organisational culture also expresses itself through observable symbols, such as the organisation’s house style, the layout of its offices or the customary or prescribed work clothes. These can all be measured.

1Translator’s note: BOOS is a Dutch investigative TV programme that in 2022 exposed transgressive behaviour behind the scenes of Dutch TV show The Voice of Holland.

Macho behaviour

The same goes for the underlying work-related values, such as cockiness, respect, equality, stress, hierarchy, etc. To what extent are they present or absent, compared to the work-related values desired by employees? Measuring them allows you to identify which elements of the existing culture should be cherished and which elements still need work.

Doing so will also help you to find out whether everyone feels safe at work in every respect and at all times, and whether there are barriers to reporting transgressive behaviour. An open culture in which people dare to speak out if they feel hurt or disturbed by someone else’s behaviour is the most important weapon against sexually transgressive behaviour. After all, such behaviour can only (continue to) exist in a culture where people remain silent and look away.

If you work in an international organisation or an organisation with great cultural diversity, it is important to include this aspect in the research as well, since people from various cultural backgrounds may have different frames of reference. These can manifest themselves in behaviour but also in the display of emotions or the interpretation of circumstances and the behaviour of others.

Culture change

Any process of change towards a more open and safe culture, where incidents are not covered up, starts with holding up a mirror. There are several ways to find out what your organisation’s culture is really like:

  • Quantitative research can be used to measure the culture as well as the drivers (i.e. factors) that can improve or worsen the feeling of safety. Although the aim is to have an open culture, true anonymity of the participants is recommended here.
  • Qualitative in-depth interviews are also very valuable as each individual perceives the feeling of safety differently. In-depth interviews should, of course, be conducted highly confidentially. They can also be conducted completely anonymously.
  • Besides yielding insights, the taking of tests, e.g. in the form of a quiz, also generates awareness.
  • Listening sessions in which managers and employees ‘listen’ to experiences of colleagues that have affected their sense of safety in an organisation. With the currently available applications, these too can be held in full anonymity.

An additional advantage of conducting surveys and listening sessions is that they allow you to involve the employees in policy making, allow you to map what they really need, not at a high policy level but at a practical ‘shop-floor’ level. It’s the ‘Come-on-I-was-just-kidding culture’ that you want to get rid of.

In doing so, it is good to remember that cultural changes take a lot of time. This means that you will have to keep the topic on the agenda rather than just pay attention to it right after an incident or a lot of media coverage, although the latter is of course a perfect reason to place some extra stress on the subject.

More information?
Feel free to contact us.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Search this website