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Think Harassment Isn’t Happening at Your Organization? Maybe it Just Isn’t Being Reported.

September 23, 2021

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Aartner ASE

From sexual harassment to discrimination to power abuse, harassment affects more than just a handful of employees. Harassment deteriorates culture and morale and can lead to psychological discomfort, leaving a job, or lawsuits. Why is this happening? And how can organizations work to prevent harassment before it begins, or hear about issues when they arise?

AllVoices conducted a survey of 822 American workers. Of the 822 respondents, 52.8% were male and 47.2% female. 43.8% of respondents report that they have experienced some kind of harassment at work, across all sectors and sizes – even with remote work.

The survey confirms that harassment is affecting nearly half of workers today, creating toxic work environments. Additionally, over half of employees have been in work environments where they have not felt psychologically safe, which impacts an employee’s ability to share ideas, bring up concerns, or contribute to their workplace culture.

What kind of harassment did respondents experience?

  • Personal harassment/in-person bullying (48.6%)
  • Discriminatory harassment/bias (43.3%)
  • Online harassment/cyber bullying (40.6%)
  • Physical harassment (39.4%)
  • Sexual harassment (37.8%)
  • Psychological harassment/misuse of power (36.7%)
  • Abuse of power (35%)
  • Gender-based harassment (34.4%)
  • Racism (30%)
  • Microaggressions (29.2%)
  • Socioeconomic harassment (26.1%)
  • Other (5.8%)

Where is the harassment coming from?

  • 38.2% of employees witness harassment from managers against employees.
  • 36.8 % have seen harassment happen between coworkers.
  • 25% have witnessed harassment from managers, employees, and coworkers.

Remote work is not a solution.

  • 37.5% of respondents had still experienced harassment through remote channels.
  • Although 40.9% of respondents believe it lessened, 7.8% believe that harassment got worse with remote work.

Addressing issues of harassment.

  • 53% of respondents report that their workplace addresses issues of harassment immediately after they’re reported.
  • 20.2% say that their workplace addresses them eventually (not immediately).
  • 12% say their workplace does not address harassment issues or addresses them inadequately.
  • 14.7% replied that if their workplace does address harassment issues or they’re not aware of it.
  • As a result, 34.1% of respondents say that they have left a job in the past because issues of harassment were not addressed.

Harassment prevention and initiatives.

Harassment will thrive if ignored, and will deplete morale, create unsafe working conditions, and will lead to employees leaving, lawsuits, or bad media attention. This is why workplaces must take an active approach to harassment, by not just normalizing the conversation around harassment, but by encouraging employees to report it, and putting initiatives in place to actively prevent harassment before it starts.

A key approach to preventing harassment includes actively talking about it at staff meetings, trainings, and other places for open dialogue, and implementing initiatives to prevent it.

Reporting harassment in the workplace.

  • For those who had experienced harassment, 49.8% said they reported it, either to a manager, to HR, or to an ombudsperson or thirty party
    • 55.3% said they reported it to their manager, 36.4% reported the issue to the HR department, and 8.3% reported it to an ombudsperson or a third party.
  • 17.6% said that even though they experienced or witnessed harassment, they did not report it

The top five reasons given for not reporting harassment are:

  1. I feared retaliation (demotion, job loss, gossip, shaming, etc.).
  2. I didn’t believe reporting it would do anything, or I wouldn’t be believed.
  3. I didn’t know if it was a big enough deal to report.
  4. I assumed someone else would report it/didn’t feel it was my place to report it.
  5. I saw how others who reported in the past were treated, so I kept silent.

Respondents who reported their issue to a manager were more likely to see manager-to-employee harassment. Additionally, unless the manager then reports the issue to HR, there may not be a record of the issue ever being reported, as the issue can easily fall by the wayside in a manager’s hands.

What actions employers can take to encourage more reporting?

  • Ensure reporting is anonymous
  • More user-friendly reporting platform
  • Encouragement from leadership
  • More awareness around what harassment is and how to recognize it
  • Normalizing the conversation at work around reporting harassment
  • Commitment to not to retaliate against employees for reporting harassment (which is illegal)
  • Having a bystander intervention training

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but one of the first steps is not just listening to — and believing — employees, but to value your organization’s health and wellbeing enough to want to hear about issues of harassment – and more importantly, preventing it.

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