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Stop #MeToo Backlash From Hurting Employee Engagement

Posted by Sandy Yu on 4.25.2019


According to a recent New York Times post, many male managers are mentoring female employees less, or have stopped altogether, in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In fact, one in six male managers reported feeling uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague, according to two studies by LeanIn.

The #MeToo movement has issued an important and necessary call for change. Unfortunately, when a movement of this magnitude shifts employee relationships, it can negatively impact engagement. Employees who were once enthusiastic and fully-absorbed in the future of the organization may begin to feel distant and negative about their roles and workplace relationships.

This is something that all leaders need to address. Here are tips from three experts for handling employee engagement during the post #MeToo era:

Provide updated and ongoing education

The #MeToo movement is having a negative impact on employee engagement because the culture of work has changed. People are now unsure of the new norms and where the lines have been drawn around acceptable behavior. This is Copy of 200x200 headshotcausing concern among employees and, as a result, employee engagement is falling.

Companies need to provide ongoing education and communication to employees regarding how to engage in the #MeToo era. They need to be comfortable with what's acceptable -- and what's not. With ongoing education and communication, it's possible to create an environment of employee engagement that reflects the new norms.

Richard Pummell, Human Resources Lead at DevelopIntelligence

Clarify policies

I believe there are good things that happened thanks to #MeToo, such as increased awareness and encouragement for women to step forward. Unfortunately, #MeToo also has a bad and ugly side.

The bad side is that instead of using their own policies to ensure careful andCopy of 200x200 headshot (1) timely investigations take place, some organizations end up throwing the accused under the bus to protect the corporate brand.

Leaders and HR personnel need to make it crystal clear what the policies within the organization are and what is considered inappropriate or even illegal behavior. Then, they need to train everyone from the top down to the front line. Employees need to know that everyone -- even top leaders and rainmakers -- are held accountable to policies. Finally, leaders need to take action immediately when they see harassing behavior.

Jeanne Martinson, MA, Diversity Strategist at Martrain

Offer guidance on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors

We’ve certainly heard that male managers are more apprehensive about one-on-one interactions with their female colleagues since #MeToo. In situations where this is happening, women feel more negative because, suddenly, they aren’t getting the level of mentoring and on-the-job training they expect and deserve.

In a year or two, there will likely be workforce impacts. Employers may start to see more turnover or lack of promotions among women because they aren’t getting the critical employee experiences they need to progress their careers. The impact might even be disproportionately harmful to senior women in organizations dominated by male leadership.  

Copy of 200x200 headshot (2)If it’s clear that male managers are frustrated, confused, or even fearful, take action before it leads to bad behavior. Provide a safe forum for all managers to candidly share their concerns. Then be prepared to provide specific behavior guidance and expectations.

Virtually everyone wants to be a good corporate citizen, but in some cases, it may not be entirely clear what that looks like. Be sure your sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures are current and clearly communicated to all employees.

Be specific about what type of behaviors aren’t acceptable. And be clear on what behaviors are okay because employees aren’t entirely sure post-#MeToo and will appreciate the guidance. Mandatory sexual harassment or unconscious-bias training can also help managers when it comes to handling nuanced and one-on-one workplace situations more confidently, instead of just avoiding them.

Angela Berg, Partner at Mercer


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Topics: employee engagement, employee experience, workplace communication

Human Resources Today