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Preventing workplace harassment: There's an app for that

03 August 2018 - By Damian Funnell

We’ve seen the headlines and we’ve seen the survey results. Harassment and bullying is a problem within the legal industry and it’s clear that you need more than just having carefully worded policies against it.

Many firms are grappling with the issue of how to keep their staff safe from harassment – often from those at the top of their own hierarchies and within a culture of fear and ritual secrecy.

Although it’s by no means a silver bullet, one effective strategy for discouraging workplace harassment is to force the perpetrators out of the shadows.

Giving a voice

By giving your staff a safe way of reporting (or otherwise responding to) inappropriate behaviour you can give them a voice while eliminating places for perpetrators to hide.

This is the idea behind confidential hotlines, although harassment hotlines are notoriously under-utilised and ineffective. A US survey by Gartner of more than 300,000 employes (from various industries) found that hotlines were the least popular mechanism for reporting harassment. Only 7% of respondents who had witnessed or experienced workplace harassment bothered reporting it via a hotline.

An illustration of a hand holding a mobile phone

This is because employees simply don’t trust hotlines. They don’t trust that their complaint will remain confidential and they don’t trust that reporting the harassment will result in meaningful change.

The Law Society set up a confidential hotline earlier this year (0800 Law Care) and I think this is a positive step, but I do wonder how effective it will be and how many from within the industry will actually use it.

So, if victims are too afraid to report abuse in person or over the phone, what can we do to give them that voice?

It’s here that I should note that study after study has found that maintaining a positive workplace culture is by far the most effective way of preventing workplace abuse. When your culture is healthy, inclusive and respectful then it’s very unlikely that workplace harassment or abuse is going to be happening at all. Or, if it does occur, it’s much less likely that the victim or their colleagues will tolerate and/or turn a blind eye to the abuse.

Building and maintaining a healthy workplace culture is outside of the scope of this article, so instead let’s take a look at the growing number of apps and services designed to give a voice to the victims of workplace harassment while helping employers to keep it at bay.

If you don’t, someone else might

It’s important to note that, thanks largely to the democratising power of smartphone apps and the cloud, it’s no longer the employers’ sole decision whether to implement reporting tools such as those listed below.

If you choose not to give a voice to victims then they may find it on their own, and not just on social media. Websites such as the Silent Choir Project and apps like Ciaspora (a blockchain project for reporting sexual assault, due to launch later this year) are designed to do exactly this. They exclude the employer from the conversation (in some cases completely), which is probably the last place any employer wants to find themselves.

Regardless of how you do it, I think it’s a good idea to provide employees with an ‘official’ tool for reporting workplace harassment – one that they demonstrably trust and support. This increases your chances of being the first to hear about (and respond to) allegations of harassment or abuse.

Apps and websites

New apps and websites are emerging in this space all the time. I’d definitely recommend doing your research to find the one that’s best suited to your organisation.

Safe to Talk (safetotalk.nz) – Provided by MSD, Safe to Talk is a confidential service that provides assistance to those affected (directly and indirectly) by sexual harm. Impressively, for a government-run service, it allows those in need to contact 24 hours a day via phone, text, email and even live webchat.

Spot (talktospot.com) – Spot is a really impressive web-based app that focuses on preventing workplace discrimination and abuse. The app uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide a clever, anonymous chatbot that the victim uses to understand and document what’s happening (or has happened to them).

The brilliance of Spot is that it allows the victim to report abuse and to get support without the intimidation of having to talk to a human. It allows the victim to keep a reliable record of the abuse, control what they report to their employer (if they choose to do so) and even to anonymously share their story with the researchers behind the app.

STOPit (stopitsolutions.com) – STOPit is designed to give employees a safe and anonymous method for reporting any kind of dubious behaviour in the workplace – one that allows you to hear about the allegations first.

Convercent (convercent.com) – Like STOPit, Convercent is an ethics and compliance reporting platform. It includes tools for employees to report suspected ethics violations, as well as features to allow organisations to proactively manage and monitor ethics compliance.

BEEamicable (beeamicable.com) – The awkwardly named BEEamicable includes an app and a number of pre-formulated templates designed to allow victims of harassment to address the perpetrators directly. This gives the parties the opportunity to resolve the issue between themselves before involving the employer. As an employer I think I’d prefer to be involved from the outset, particularly as the perpetrator could try and intimidate the victim into not taking the matter any further.

Blind (www.teamblind.com) – Arguably the app that large corporates fear the most, Blind provides employees with an anonymous platform to communicate with each other about their workplaces. A number of devastating scandals have broken as a result of Blind, including not only some shocking cases of sexual harassment, but also a number of really embarrassing, headline-grabbing surveys (one showed that 58% of Microsoft employees would not feel comfortable going to HR about sexual harassment in the workplace).

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on apps like this in case your firm becomes active on the platform. If so, you might want to keep a close eye on what is being said. There can be a lot of incessant whingeing on this type of platform, but sometimes allegations can be serious enough to warrant investigation.


Technologist Damian Funnell damianfunnell@choicetechnology.co.nz is founder of Choice Technology, an IT services company and panaceahq.com, a cloud software company.

Last updated on the 3rd August 2018