Bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace has taken centre stage in the news in recent months following the allegations of sexual assault and rape against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Hollywood has been under the spotlight whilst investigations of sexual harassment are under way. For many people, having Hollywood stars come forward about their experiences of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace has given other individuals the confidence to come forward about their unfortunate experiences at work.
But just how big is the issue? Badgemaster, retailers of button badges, investigates how pressing the matter of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace is and how we can combat the issue moving forward.
How severe is sexual harassment in the workplace?
Around 14% of people in the workplace have reported sexual harassment in the workplace, with figures significantly higher for women (20%) then for males (7%). One in five women claim to be victims of sexual harassment, with a significant number saying they were targeted by their boss. 12% of male victims said they were targeted by managers, as opposed to 30% of women – and it appears that the younger generation make up the majority. 19% of female victims are aged between 18-34 years old, while 7% of female victims were over 55.
Worryingly, these figures may be an inaccurate representation of reality, with the BBC revealing that two thirds of female victims do not report their sexual harassment to anyone. Likewise, 79% of male victims keep their incidents to themselves. This could be what is pushing many people to leave their job roles as a result. One in 10 women leaves their job as a result of a sexual harassment incident.
Sexual harassment covers a wide spectrum of incidents – from sexual comments and unwanted touching to verbal sexual advances and sexual assault. 12% of victims who had the courage to step forward and report an incident said the incident was not even acknowledged by their company. A further 31% said although their report was acknowledged, no action was taken. Unfortunately, figures reveal that just three in 10 victims said that their offender was given a warning, and just 4% said that their offender was removed from the company.
How to deal with an incident in the workplace
The importance of dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace properly has been highlighted following the uncovering of celebrity victims in Hollywood. HR departments must make it clear that it won’t be tolerated in the workplace. However, HR has been the victim of scrutiny recently.
An employee needs to feel safe, confident and comfortable enough to report an incident to you, knowing that something will be done about it. With such a high rate of acknowledgment and no action taken, you need to make it clear that sexual harassment is unacceptable.
A confidential process is required in every workplace for safeguarding and dealing with complaints. Identifying sexual harassment isn’t always obvious – consider how the actions and words affect the victim. Does it make them feel uncomfortable, hostile or does it offend them? With many victims not reporting incidents themselves, it is important to be able to spot the tell-tale signs of harassment in the workplace.
Obviously, any report needs to be investigated properly and formally, but what happens when the accused it guilty? What should the punishment be? The incident needs to be acknowledged, and action needs to be taken.
According to Avvo, ‘Employers, rather than individuals, are liable for sexual harassment in the workplace. That means if an employer is found guilty of neglecting to stop or prevent sexual harassment, the employer may face court-ordered penalties.’
However, the accused can face penalties from their employer for their actions. Punishments are usually measured on how serious the offensive behaviour was. Penalties range from a warning, demotion, transfer or salary reduction to monitoring, suspension and termination.
Do we have a bullying problem?
Unacceptable behaviour in the workplace includes bullying – and there appears to be an issue in the UK. According to a YouGov poll, 29% of workers have been the victim of workplace bullying – that’s almost every three in every 10 workers, which would equate to 9.1 million of the UK workplace.
Again, women appear to be the most likely victims. 34% of women have experienced workplace bullying as opposed to 23% of men. However, it is the older generation who appears to be the most affected by workplace bullying. 34% of 40-59 year olds are affected.
Worryingly, nearly three quarters of bullying incidents are carried out by a manager. Furthermore, in 2015, the BBC revealed that Acas received over 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying in the workplace during the previous year — with some callers admitting to having suicidal thoughts as a result.
Gender, disability, religion, beliefs, ethnicity and sexual orientation are amongst the most common reasons behind bullying. Women are reported to be 11% more likely to be a victim of bullying, while an Opportunity Now survey reveals that 71% of disabled women have been victims of some kind of workplace abuse or bullying. Additionally, one in five people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual experienced bullying too.
How to tackle workplace bullying
Further reports by Acas revealed that workplace bullying is costing the UK economy £18 billion a year – which combines sickness-related absences, staff turnover and reduced productivity. Whilst it is clearly significantly costing the UK economy, the effect it has on businesses and employees is also significant.
It is an employer’s responsibility for duty of care and welfare of their employees and that includes the prevention of bullying and harassment. It is also your responsibility to fully investigate a reported incident. A grievance is likely to be filed by the HR department or manager, to which it must be upheld and acknowledged. Worryingly, 99% currently believe that workplace bullying is not dealt with appropriately.
Organisations should have a clear policy set in place in the event of a bullying incident or report – and it should state that it will not be tolerated in the workplace. Staff need to feel confident and comfortable reporting the matter, and it should then go on to be dealt with in a respectful, confidential manner.