Liz Sheffield

Should You Implement Workplace Sensitivity Training?

When things get tense, good manners are more important than ever. But what if your employees don’t have a good sense of when they’re putting their foot in their mouth?

Some businesses have responded to situations like these with workplace sensitivity training. The purpose of the training is to help employees become more aware of their subconscious views and the needs of others.

Creating a safe workplace environment strengthens relationships, boosts engagement and celebrates all forms of diversity.

An insensitive office culture can foster rude and prejudiced behaviors. Harassment, discrimination and bullying can all become a financial drain on organizations; workplace discrimination cost employers $398 million in 2017.

People who are skilled in workplace sensitivity, on the other hand, are better at effectively communicating and collaborating with a wide range of people. Creating a safe workplace environment strengthens relationships, boosts engagement and realizes the benefits of having a diverse, well-rounded workforce.

Approaches to Workplace Sensitivity Training

Sensitivity training ranges from online modules to in-person workshops complete with team activities that can increase understanding between employees. The training may focus on specific topics, such as sexual harassment, diversity or cultural awareness; however, the goals remain the same. The purpose of such training is increased self-awareness and tolerance for others.

One perspective training exercise that got the thumbs-up from Harvard Business Review targets empathy. The task was seemingly simple: to imagine being in someone else’s shoes. Researchers found that when participants wrote a few sentences to imagine “the distinct challenges a marginalized minority might face,” they had more positive feelings toward diverse groups — even eight months after the training activity.

Issues and Concerns About Nontechnical Training

Though sensitivity training has benefits, it’s reasonable to have concerns about investing in something that, on paper, doesn’t yield revenue. If you’re hesitant to shell out for it, remember that “soft skill” training may not cover technical topics, but it still delivers results. Improving communication and reinforcing an appreciation of differences streamlines every aspect of your business that involves interpersonal interaction — which is a lot. It’s also a strategic way of creating a safe workplace and a positive office culture in which everyone’s contributions are valued and respected.

Whether you reach out to a third party to lead the training or opt to handle it in-house, the effectiveness of any workplace sensitivity training depends upon several factors:

  • Training methods. Use a blended learning approach of online modules and in-person sessions. That way, participants can learn on their own but also benefit from group discussions, appealing to multiple learning styles.
  • Participant attitude. How you choose to introduce these topics will impact the way your workforce feels about the training. If it’s in response to an issue, employees may be disgruntled about having to attend. Instead, take a positive approach to discussing sensitivity courses. Highlight the benefits of attending — understanding colleagues, learning new skills and creating a great work environment — so they’ll be more interested in attending.
  • Follow-up and ongoing messaging. For lasting improvement, commit to making these lessons part of employees’ ongoing education. Make sure to give employees many opportunities to strengthen their skills and practice what they’ve learned.

One Forbes columnist wisely warns that when it comes to sensitivity training, authenticity matters. If the training isn’t genuine, it will “come across as a none-too-thoughtful exercise in political correctness, rather than the valuable business education programs they should be.”

Organizations that conduct workplace sensitivity training sessions just to check a box aren’t likely to see many improvements in how their employees interact with one another. However, employers who take the time to make workplace sensitivity a priority and develop training that exposes employees to new perspectives can lead to a marked change in how your company operates. Provide a thoughtful, authentic training experience, and your employees will understand that sensitivity is more than a buzzword — it’s a critical competency required to conduct business.

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