Bangor Savings Bank is putting all 900 of its employees through an innovative training program that is designed to empower workers to intervene whenever they witness workplace bullying or harassment.

The Bangor-based bank is also sponsoring similar training for some community groups in Maine and trying to get others involved.

“It’s one of those questions that employees always struggle with: What to do when they see something or they experience something?” said Bob Montgomery-Rice, president and CEO of Bangor Savings. “Plus we have this whole other thing of bullying and all this other power-based aggression going on. When we got exposed to what Green Dot is doing, we decided that this is the next step we needed to take.”

Green Dot is a program championed and taught by Virginia-based nonprofit “social accelerator” Alteristic. Its goal is to promote positive societal change by teaching people how to counteract bullying or harassing behavior when they witness it.

Instructors start by asking their trainees to envision a map with red dots placed in every location where an act of aggression is taking place, then imagine a corresponding green dot in each location, representing a bystander who intervenes to shut down the aggressive behavior.

The program covers prevention strategies for a variety of common acts of aggression, including sexual harassment and assault, dating and domestic violence, bullying and stalking.

Green Dot has gained popularity among high schools, colleges and community groups, but Bangor Savings is the first private company to commit to training every single employee. The bank has been sending groups of 25 to 30 employees at a time through the program, with the goal of having everyone trained by the end of the year.

Bangor Savings Senior Vice President David Pease said the bank became aware of the program when Lewiston and Auburn officials approached it about sponsoring Green Dot training for leaders in their community, which had seen a surge in acts of bullying and harassment perpetrated against immigrants. He said the bank is now sponsoring the program and trying to persuade other communities to use it, too.

Pease said an important aspect of the program is its recognition that all people can find themselves on the giving or receiving end of aggressive behavior sometime. The goal is not to judge the person, he said, but to point out the behavior and promote a better approach.

Tricia Duchesneau, a regional manager with Bangor Savings Bank, talks to bank employees about workplace bullying and harassment during a training class at the company’s Marginal Way office. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“We’ve all probably made a negative comment about somebody or sometimes participated in (spreading) rumors, so good people can do bad behaviors,” he said. “So what we’re really trying to do is to hold each other accountable.”

Darcie Folsom, assistant director of training and technical assistance at Alteristic, said Bangor Savings’ decision to put every staff member through the program is unprecedented for a private company. She hopes other businesses will follow suit.

Clara Porter – director of Prevention. Action. Change., a Portland-based business that teaches verbal and physical self-defense skills and safety strategies as well as its own version of bystander training – said programs such as Green Dot have gained prominence as more schools, communities and businesses have begun to take bullying and harassment training more seriously. She noted that in Maine, a large group of prominent employers have doubled down on their commitment to preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment through a recently established organization called MaineCanDo.

Its website has an entire section on workplace training and links to Maine human resource consultancies that can provide it.

Porter said live, in-person workplace harassment training programs that examine the underlying causes of power-based aggression are far more effective than online, self-paced training that merely ticks off the requisite boxes to satisfy state law.

“I think people are seeing the benefit of having a really interactive (experience) and a training that’s informed by their own experiences as opposed to a training that’s coming out of a can,” she said.

David Pease, senior vice president of Bangor Savings Bank, talks with employees during a bullying and workplace harassment training class at the bank’s Marginal Way office in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

At a recent Green Dot training session at Bangor Savings on Marginal Way in Portland, instructor Tricia Duchesneau, who is also a regional retail market manager at the bank, opened the class with a personal story about her first bank job after graduating from high school. A manager made fun of the pants she wore on her first day of work, which led to name-calling by other co-workers, she said.

Duchesneau said the incident was humiliating and made her not want to return to work after that first day, although she ultimately did so.

“I don’t want to ever crumble somebody’s confidence like those people crumbled mine,” she said.

Participants in the class were asked to consider several hypothetical examples of workplace aggression and decide the best ways for a bystander to respond. It does not always have to be a direct confrontation, the instructors said. Sometimes notifying a manager or even creating a distraction can be the better option.

The trainees also were prompted to think about reasons why a witness to the behavior might remain silent, such as a fear of retaliation, an aversion to conflict or a desire to respect the victim’s autonomy.

Pease said Bangor Savings wants to break down those barriers and empower its workers to take action whenever they witness a co-worker being mistreated, even if the perpetrator is a manager or a customer.

“We treat all of our customers with dignity and respect, and we’re willing to be asking them to treat our employees in the same manner,” he said. “The customer is always right unless there’s bad behavior. If there’s bad behavior, then that isn’t right.”

 

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