Prevent Public Shaming in the Workplace

By Pira Kumarasamy


We recently discussed the issue of public shaming in the workplace and what employees should do if they’re in the midst of it. As employees, it’s important to practice mutual respect and open lines of communication in the workplace, and as an employer, it’s also crucial to be aware of toxic situations and act accordingly. Taking action will ensure that your company builds and maintains a reputation as a choice employer, and being proactive will help mitigate the chance of shaming incidences from occurring in the first place.  

There are a number of measures that employers should take to avoid and deal with public shaming in the workplace.


Create comprehensive employee policies


Organizations in Ontario are legally mandated to have policies around workplace harassment. We spoke to Jan Medland, performance coach, organizational consultant and owner of Up Performance, an organization that specializes in organizational development services for further insight.


“A clearly defined policy gives a consistent message to all employees and sets the tone of the culture,” says Ms. Medland. “It shouldn’t have legal jargon; it should be really clear plain language policies that people can understand, and include what is acceptable, and how to address issues that are unacceptable.”


Robust policies give employees a resource that will help start the conversation with management and/or human resources. Furthermore, policies only mean something if they’re proactively reinforced by upper management. Ms. Medland recommends annual performance reviews as a good time to refresh employees on policies, procedures and services that are available.



Foster a culture of positivity


Positivity in the workplace starts from the top, and a sound workplace culture sets the tone for how things are done. Employers that emphasize the importance of caring and respect fare better than those that prioritize getting the job done at any cost. Think about what you want people to say about your company and take the steps required to create the ideal work environment.


“Culture underpins the values the company talks about. By defining what the culture is, it demonstrates to people what those values mean when put into practice,” says Ms. Medland



Offer employee assistance programs


Under the right leadership, employees should typically be comfortable enough to go to their direct supervisor if they experience inappropriate behavior. This isn’t, however, always the case. As such, larger employers often provide external employee assistance programs that cover everything from legal services to counseling.


When it comes to small and medium sized enterprises, it can be particularly uncomfortable to speak to a superior about workplace shaming incidences. When large-scale employee programs aren’t an option, it can be wise to bring in an third party that specializes in organizational behavior. For instance, employees work with external consultants like Ms. Medland to identify issues they have in the workplace and outline what they wish to do about them.


“In small groups, sometimes people are afraid to talk to their supervisor because that person is very aware of the friendships that exist within the team.”


Overall, when it comes to promoting a positive workplace and avoiding instances where employees feel the need to shame one another, regular reinforcement of the organizational culture is key. Identifying what is and is not acceptable will lead to fewer instances of shaming and harassment, lower turnover, and happier, more engaged employees.