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4 facts about sexual harassment in the workplace

Published by: LifeWorks,

It was “Laura’s” first day at her new job. What started off as an exciting first day of work, however, later turned into an unbearable situation that would span the length of her career with the company.

One of Laura’s new co-workers began sending her inappropriate emails — and it didn’t stop there. He would linger in her office, wink at her in passing, and even went as far as to corner her in the elevator. Laura’s refusals were only met with more persistence, eventually leading Laura to report him.

The company’s solution? Move her to another part of the office.

“For two years, he found ways to touch me and stare at me with intimidating looks,” she wrote. “I felt alone because of how my office handled it (or lack thereof). It only stopped when I moved to another state.”

Laura is just one of many men and women who recently shared their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace with WIRED.  

While it doesn’t always get talked about, sexual harassment does, unfortunately, exist in many workplaces today. In order to take a proactive — or what we like to call superhuman — approach to sexual harassment at work, HR professionals need to know the facts.

So, here are four little-known facts about sexual harassment in the workplace and how to address them in order to improve employee well-being:

1. One in three women have been sexually harassed at work

Despite the fact that most companies have some sort of policy in place, sexual harassment continues to rear its ugly head in today’s workplace. A 2015 study by Cosmopolitan revealed that one in three women, aged 18 to 34, have been sexually harassed at work.

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that some women may not even realize the way they’re being treated constitutes sexual harassment. The same study found that, while 16 percent of women surveyed said “no” when asked if they had been sexually harassed at work, those same women said “yes” to experiencing sexually explicit or sexist remarks.  

Employee well-being tip: To improve employee well-being, educate employees with updated policies, educational materials, or even training workshops. The first step in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is to teach employees and leaders how to identify it.

To keep these resources all in one place, consider investing in an employee assistance program (EAP). In addition to housing educational materials, EAPs can help employees who have been affected by sexual harassment with individualized counseling services.

2. More males reported sexual harassment experiences at work than females by a 22 percent to 15.9 percent margin

When you think of sexual harassment in the workplace, you often think of a man abusing his position to take advantage of a female employee. But sexual harassment knows no gender or occupational boundaries.

In fact, a recent study by Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training found that 19.2 percent of the 6,027 workers surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past six months. What’s more, more males reported experiences than females.  

Employee well-being tip: When delivering educational materials or training classes, be sure to keep it gender-neutral. The idea of sexual harassment applying primarily to women has been ingrained in us, leading us to neglect men and their experiences in the workplace.

Additionally, create a workplace environment that encourages both men and women to be open and honest. The safer the environment, the more likely employees will come forward.

3. Employee perceptions of sexual harassment influences workplace policy effectiveness

Researchers at the University of Missouri recently evaluated how employees’ interpretations of sexual harassment policies can invalidate the purpose of those policies. They discovered that employee perceptions of how sexual harassment is defined by a company’s policy can effectively distort the meaning of these policies.

Employee well-being tip: To avoid any confusion when it comes to what falls under the sexual harassment umbrella, strive to be as clear and concise as possible with your policies.

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. But it’s important to note that it can also include things like sexist or sexually-oriented behavior (crude jokes, for example).

4. Thirty-nine percent of those who were sexually harassed did nothing because they thought it would negatively impact their career.

Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of sexual harassment in the workplace today, not to mention one of the reasons it remains such a prevalent issue.

What’s worse, however, is that while the Elephant in the Valley study found that a majority of sexual harassment victims refrain from reporting it because of the impact it might have on their career, 60 percent of those who did report it were dissatisfied with the course of action (much like our friend, Laura).    

Employee well-being tip: In addition to having a clear, concise sexual harassment policy, companies also need to clearly point out the potential consequences for harassers. Knowing companies will be held accountable will encourage employees to take action rather than suffer silently.

To further support those who have been affected by sexual harassment in the workplace, offer counseling services or create support groups. These efforts can go a long way in creating a workplace that feels safe, supportive, and improves individual and overall employee well-being.  

What are some other ways to keep these facts from becoming a reality in your workplace?

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