It’s a sad reality, but an important one to recognize: for as long as there have been workplaces, there has been workplace mistreatment. For centuries, there was little the mistreated worker could do to rectify the situation they unfairly found her or himself in.
It’s rarely as simple as telling the offending party to change their behavior. So the advent of human resources as a discipline in the early 20th century was a major step toward righting the wrongs taking place in workplaces globally. A person or department who can serve as an intermediary between the recipient of mistreatment and the offender provides a crucial buffer that has helped countless workers feel heard and supported, and safe in speaking up.
While the work that HR departments perform has changed dramatically since the 1900s, there’s really only been one widespread structural change to how people can come for help in the event of mistreatment: the anonymous workplace harassment hotline.
These phone lines allow workers to call in and report misconduct in the workplace, anonymously or with their name attached to the grievance. The hotline is not a perfect solution, but for many years, it was the best route for employees seeking action, who—for any number of valid reasons—didn’t feel comfortable coming in face to face to contact their problem.
But as technological preferences shift—for instance, that whole “millennials not liking to talk on the phone thing”—it’s time for a new paradigm in mistreatment reporting tools.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 70% of those experiencing mistreatment at work won’t report anything. Why would a dated piece of technology encourage that figure to improve?
Per a 2017 New York Times article about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment by former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, “heavy reliance on an anonymous hotline for reporting allegations could be inherently suspect… [and] employees tend to come forward when they feel that their company is going to handle their complaints fairly and responsibly.”
And with this dated technology, there are a few issues that might stand in the way of that happening.
“With a hotline, it’s a whistleblower mentality where you are able to report what’s going on—but that doesn’t really solve the issue of creating a positive workplace culture,” says Jana Morrin, Speakfully founder and CEO.
Anonymity is often necessary for the emotional and physical wellbeing of a reporting employee, but when the conversation can be taken to more open places, a productive and trusting relationship between HR teams and staff can flourish. This allows companies to get to the root of potentially systemic issues, and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
While a hotline requires the reporter to decide on the call whether or not to remain anonymous, with Speakfully, as a user documents their mistreatment, they remain anonymous until—or if—they elect to submit their report to HR. All information is private up until that point, and users are given a longer runway to prepare themselves to come forward. The reporting worker is able to establish the terms to which they agree to discuss the incidents they have experienced. They tell HR what their desired outcome is, whether or not they’d be willing to sit down with the named person for a supervised mediation, and they can even select which HR staffer they’d prefer address their folder.
“The only way to truly change workplace environment and culture is to be able to have open conversations about it. And that’s one of Speakfully’s major objectives,” adds Morrin.
Then there’s the immediate nature of picking up the phone to dial a hotline. Callers might feel put on the spot, and oftentimes don’t have easy access the sort of documentation necessary for HR teams to take decisive action. And if anonymity is still wished for, that makes HR’s job even harder.
As a user navigates their journey, Speakfully helps them document in great detail instances of unfair treatment, providing both the person suffering from mistreatment and HR with plenty of material upon which to act. The documentation process can take as long as the user wishes, whereas with a hotline, you have that one phone call to attempt to make things right.
Then there’s the antiquated nature of a hotline as a crucial tool. Modern avoidance of phone calls aside, it’s not the sort of new, user-friendly, and transparent program an HR team would be proud to promote to employees. They are just as aware of the hotline’s shortcomings as those hesitant to use them are.
Speakfully—on top of providing a visually welcoming and intuitive user experience—allows HR teams to work more transparently with those suffering from mistreatment. The employee is able to follow the status of their report after it’s submitted, helping foster a trusting, more open company culture.
With a hotline, there was no sense of where in the process a complaint was. With Speakfully, nothing gets lost in the shuffle, because there is one seamlessly integrated platform for employees and HR alike.
That Speakfully is something HR teams and senior leaders can feel confident in promoting to employees is a crucial step forward from hotlines. It takes collaboration, communication, and trust to eradicate inappropriate behavior from the office.
The struggle to combat workplace mistreatment is ongoing. The challenges we face will continue to evolve. And the tools we employ to address these challenges need to be adaptable, nimble, responsive, and above all else, worthy of our trust. Speakfully proudly accepts the torch passed by anonymous harassment hotlines, and carries it into the modern working world.