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New training creates Safer Spaces in hospitality and tourism

Published on: June 19, 2023

All forms of bullying or harassment are unacceptable in any circumstance — particularly within a workplace, where employers are responsible for safeguarding their employees.

By Marnie Douglas

Harassment at work can create a hostile and intimidating environment that affects employees' well-being, performance, and absenteeism — and leaves companies open to losing valuable staff members.

B.C.'s human resource and health and safety association for the tourism and hospitality industry, go2HR, has developed a unique training initiative to raise awareness of sexual harassment in this sector.

"Sexual harassment is highly underreported. We recognize this and want to be sure that employers know how to help and foster healthy workplace cultures that allow for these types of discussions and disclosures to happen," explains Stephanie Mallalieu, go2HR's director, industry health and safety.

All-inclusive training

The Safer Spaces initiative offers two courses geared to specific target audiences — leaders (employers and supervisors) and workers. The training uses storytelling to educate participants on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The leader course explores how a tourism and hospitality employer handles a disclosure and who they call on for support. The course encourages participants to consider how they might respond if faced with a similar situation.

Mallalieu adds that the goal of the course is to build awareness and education for employers and supervisors, to start looking at sexual harassment as a workplace hazard in the same way they might view a physical hazard.

The worker course also uses storytelling to connect participants to the subject matter. The content defines sexual harassment, helps workers to understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities, spotlights the importance of consent, and outlines how to disclose or report sexual harassment.

David MacKenzie is the owner and general manager of the Pemberton Valley Lodge in Pemberton, B.C. He's operated the hotel for the last 19 years and has a small team of 18 full-time staff. He and his two managers have taken the Safer Spaces training, and he has just recently rolled it out to his other employees.

"I thought the course was truly relevant and connected to our work. It gives excellent concrete examples around harassment for people working in the tourism and hospitality industry," he says.

Both courses are free of charge to tourism and hospitality staff. The leader course takes around three hours to complete, while the worker course takes around 90 minutes. The format is asynchronous, so employees can progress at their own pace. MacKenzie is encouraging all his staff to do the training and is making it available for them to complete while at work.

Key learnings

As well as educating employees on what is and isn't sexual harassment and the workplace situations where it may happen, MacKenzie believes this kind of training contributes to a positive health and safety culture at the hotel.

This has important benefits, including employee retention and reduced turnover, improved reputation and customer loyalty, and reduced costs.

"I feel so fortunate to have the staff that we do. Several have been here more than a decade, and one person has been with us since we opened 19 years ago. So, retaining staff and really building the supportive culture here is so important," he adds.

Progressive feedback

Feedback from staff who have taken the Safer Spaces course has been positive.

"One of my staff, who takes the lead on health and safety at the hotel, told me that after taking the course she feels better equipped to deal with a situation involving harassment, should one arise," MacKenzie says.

Other employees said they appreciated learning about and understanding the risk factors and liked the situational aspect to the training, as well as it being relevant and up to date.

Because sexual harassment can be a complex and complicated subject matter, Mallalieu says the idea of building the training around a "story" was the best way to integrate the complexities and diverse scenarios that can be commonplace in the tourism and hospitality industry. Storytelling is also a known, proven learning technique that can be highly effective.

"It allowed us to flush out many different scenarios and deepen the learning opportunities, and to create a relatability and personal connection to the characters and what they were experiencing," she explains, adding that she hopes learners will identify with the characters and stories in the Safer Spaces course, feel a sense of empowerment, identify inappropriate behaviour in themselves and in others, know how to respond to it, and also support others who might be experiencing it.

Alison Jones, WorkSafeBC's manager, OHS Consultation and Education Services, agrees that harassment, and particularly sexual harassment, can be a difficult issue to address in the workplace. Being prepared through training such as the Safer Spaces course can help alleviate the uneasiness associated with responding to these incidents — both for employees who experience harassment and employers who need to appropriately respond.

"I am so pleased to see that employers like Pemberton Valley Lodge are stepping up to tackle this issue, offering these courses to employees," she says.

Jones adds that go2HR has put a lot of care into creating these resources that speak specifically to the situations faced by workers, employers, and managers in the hospitality industry.

Preventing violence in the workplace

Creating awareness around sexual harassment and taking the Safer Spaces training is a good step toward meeting the employers' obligation to prevent violence in the workplace and ensure the safety of their workers. Where there is a risk of violence at work, employers must implement controls to eliminate or reduce these risks, and these controls can include training and education for employees, and regularly conducting risk assessments. Plus, employees working alone may be at increased risk of confrontations or even violence, particularly if they are on shift during late-night hours.

"Unfortunately, the potential for violence exists whenever there is direct interaction between workers and non-workers," said Barry Nakahara, WorkSafeBC's senior manager of Prevention Field Services. "Employers must provide a workplace that is as safe from the threat of violence as possible."

Adds Jones: "It's important for employers to remember to be proactive; have your policies and procedures in place so that you'll know how respond. Let your employees know what these are so they will feel supported in using them."

Preventing violence and harassment in the workplace is an ongoing process, and one that MacKenzie and his staff are clearly committed to. Being proactive and acknowledging that sexual harassment is a potential risk in many workplaces is a first step to taking ownership of health and safety issues.

"I am pleased that go2HR has developed industry specific resources and training that can have a direct impact on myself and my team at the Pemberton Valley Lodge," MacKenzie says. "The training is so important, and essential for creating a safe and positive work environment that benefits both our employees and the employer."

For more information

For more general information and resources, visit our webpages on Bullying & harassment and Working alone or in isolation.

This information originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of WorkSafe Magazine. To read more or to subscribe, visit WorkSafe Magazine.

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