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The Downside of Online, On-Demand Sensitivity Training

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Written by: Evelina Silveira, President

After making racist comments in the workplace, Susan was sent to me due to her passive-aggressive behaviour, intimidation, and acting as an overall big bully. So why hadn’t Susan been fired from her job? The answer was simple: she was highly productive and hardworking. But there is more. Not only was her boss a bully, but so was the business owner, cementing and legitimizing a hostile, toxic workplace.

Susan’s behaviours were never challenged as there was no standard of workplace conduct and no accountability. Then, one day, a Hispanic Human Resources Manager was hired who heard her comments and became extremely upset and documented the incident.  She was then sent to sensitivity/empathy and anti-bullying training with me.

Susan was highly resistant and one of the most challenging participants I had until now. You see, prior to coming to one-on-one training with me, she was given online, generic sensitivity training. She liked it and did not want to go through two days of training.

I came to realize why online sensitivity training can be a preferred alternative for workplace bullies.

1. Awareness - Online courses can be valuable for raising awareness, but they fall short when it comes to skill development and accountability. A bully needs to learn new skills to replace their destructive behavioural patterns.

2. Impersonal - Covering a broad range of problems, the participant may feel none apply to them. For example, this type of training gave Susan a feeling that “Well, I don’t do any of that, so my behaviour can’t be so bad.” For example, “I’m not a homophobe!”

3. Passive - The trainee passively participates. All they have to do is click a few boxes, listen and advance the slides. You can go through this process without having any emotional impact as you would if you were directly confronted about your bullying and harassing behaviours. As a facilitator, I try to encourage participants to take responsibility and use “I” statements, which are powerful in moving ahead and altering problematic behaviour.

4. Comfortable - Workplace bullies need to get out of their “comfort zone” and feel a little bit “uncomfortable” and have someone else control the situation for a change. Along with remaining a passive form of training, it can be too relaxing. Since trainees are not challenged for their specific behaviours and they can routinely undergo the training anywhere at any time, it is pretty convenient.

5. Sense of Completion - Taking an online course in sensitivity training makes it seem like your work has been completed; however, usually, with customized, one-on-one training, the journey has just begun. As a result, you learn valuable insights about yourself. You gain additional resources for coping. You are also encouraged to seek out other outlets like therapy, counseling, and forms of relaxation.

In the case of Susan, one-on-one sensitivity/anti-bullying training provided her with all of that. Despite her workplace culture being toxic from top-down, Susan received the communication and coping skills she needed to diffuse her anger, communicate more assertively, and understand the impacts of continuing with discriminatory behaviour for herself, the organization, and the public on the whole.

Diversity at Work is currently offering this service globally and virtually. Contact us today to help you end workplace harassment and retain productive employees.

To learn more about our signature anti-bullying and sensitivity training, please visit.

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