Know the Signs: How to Spot Workplace Harassment

Know the Signs: How to Spot Workplace Harassment

The workplace is a large part of our everyday lives. It’s often where we spend the most time during the day and week. However, there are often conflicts that arise in the workplace that can be beyond our control. When these issues occur, they can create a breeding ground for workplace harassment. If you believe that you have seen or personally experienced workplace harassment, just know that you are not alone. 

Companies and legislature often work tirelessly to ensure that employees have a safe workplace, free from harassment of any kind. HR teams and leaders aim to implement policies and procedures to ensure employees feel appreciated, happy, and free of bullying or harassment in the workplace. Nonetheless, workplace harassment still tends to be an increasing issue amongst countless teams and their companies. 

Continue reading to learn more about the types of workplace harassment, examples, and learn how to minimise its impact on your organisation. 

Next read: Learn how you can implement an employee training software to reduce the risk of workplace harassment. 

girl covering the mouth

What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is best defined as a situation that occurs when someone is made to feel intimidated, humiliated, or treated less favourably on the basis of their personal characteristics within the work environment. Within the office, bullying and harassment can often overlap each other. According to researchers, nearly 60% of workers experience some form what is considered bullying or workplace harassment.

Workplace bullying and harassment can also take various forms. It can be harassment experienced between leadership and employees or between employees directly. Workplace harassment can occur both directly on a personal level in the form of bullying or individual-based harassment or indirectly on a group level. It can be verbal, non-verbal, or sexually based in nature. Ultimately, workplace harassment in all varieties is often a form of bias and treatment of others based on age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc. 

Workplace Harassment Examples

Workplace harassment may seem to be easy to spot, yet the reality is that often times it can be more covertly happening than some of the more overt observations. The following list is some of the types of workplace harassment which you may experience.

Discriminatory harassment

This form of workplace harassment can often occur based on the age, gender identity, race, ethical background, religion, or sexual orientation of the person being harassed. Often those who become a target of this behaviour are subjected to being excluded, insulted, and possibly humiliated based on their characteristics. 

Physical harassment

Physical harassment type of workplace bullying is often directly correlated with physical attacks and workplace violence. This type of behaviour which is considered physical harassment can involve threats of harm, pushing, kicking, destroying property, and other threatening behaviours. 

Sexual harassment

Harassment of a sexual nature can be physical and non-physical. Sexual harassment can involve an unwelcome sexual advance, making sexual practical jokes or references, sharing nonconsensual imagery of a sexual inclination, and unfavourable sexual gestures. More physical sexual harassment can include physically unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate touching towards another person.

sexual harassment report form

Power harassment

Power harassment is a type of behaviour often projected between leadership and employees. It can also occur between employees as well. This can also be a scenario that can occur between  senior-level staff and lower-level personnel. This type of harassment often involves excessive and impossible demands, forcing others to work outside of their normal scope of tasks, and personal intrusions on employees. 

Psychological harassment

This type of harassment can be mentally toxic and damaging to employees. Psychological harassment often involves workplace exclusion, isolation, belittling others, spreading rumours about other employees, discrediting workers, gaslighting, and creating a hostile work environment. 

Retaliation harassment

In the event that bullying or harassment has been reported in the workplace, employees can often be subject to continued harassment due to retaliation. Retaliation harassment is often an overlooked type of harassment that occurs when a person is subjected to harassment from another person with the goal of seeking revenge and preventing the victim from behaving that way again regarding bullying incidents. 

Quid pro quo harassment

Quid pro quo bullying is often translated to an exchange of “this for that”. Often it can involve upper management and senior-level employees asking for favours or another unwelcome request in exchange for preferential treatment. Quid pro quo type of behaviours in the workplace often are either asking for sexual favours or using a form of power and control over other employees. It can result in asking for favours for a pay increase, promotion, receive more time off, or better opportunities. 

Personal harassment

Personal harassment is a form of workplace bullying that’s not based on one of the protected classes (such as race, gender, age, or religion). It often targets something about the victim’s work, personal life, personality, or looks. It may also be more general behaviour that offends the victim, such as offensive jokes, rude comments, humiliation, or intimidation tactics.  

Online harassment

Workplace bullying can expand beyond just the physical office or remote work environment. While technology has been beneficial in promoting more collaboration in the workplace, it also can subject workers to online bullying. For instance, this type of bullying can include sharing personal things or spreading rumours on social media about another employee or sending harassing messages to colleagues through online messaging platforms. 

Verbal harassment

Verbal harassment can be the result of personality conflicts in the workplace that have escalated beyond a simple annoyance. It often involves yelling, threatening, insulting, cursing, excessively criticising, intimidating another, or unwelcome conduct. This type of harassment can be damaging to other employees and has been known to cause disruptions within the workplace. 

It’s important to note that these examples of workplace harassment are not mutually exclusive and can occur in correlation with one another. It can also occur to multiple victims from the same aggressor and even from multiple perpetrators as well. For instance, a female employee can experience personal, physical, power, discriminatory, and sexual harassment all at once and even from the same attacker. 

Impacts of Workplace Harassment on Businesses

Employees that experience harassment in the workplace often struggle with their physical and mental health. Workplace harassment can cause a multitude of issues within the organisation that can impact all your employees’ self-esteem and create a serious issue within the organisation. HR professionals are often tasked with the duty of enforcing policies and procedures to stop bullying and ensure their company employee handbook provides reasonable accommodations to protect the health and safety of their workers.

The impacts on businesses can be detrimental if leadership does not properly address harassment issues within the office. Below is a list of impacts businesses face when experiencing workplace bullying:

  • Loss of productivity – when workers are bullied, they may have to take time off from work or do less work than they would otherwise be able to do without the harassment. This can lead to reduced productivity, employee work performance, worker burnout, and lower profitability for the organisation.
  • Increased turnover – if workers feel that they are not being treated fairly by their employer, management, or colleagues, then they may choose to leave the company altogether. This is especially the case in a hostile work environment where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe working efficiently for the organisation. 
  • Absenteeism and tardiness – workers that experience workplace bullying often will avoid work due to stress-related mental and physical health problems caused by the harassment they are enduring. Increased sick days are then taken because of health problems caused by workplace bullying can also impact other staff during work hours.. 
  • Reduced staff morale – staff burnout can often be attributed to low worker morale. 

Low morale creates a negative atmosphere where staff only communicate within their normal responsibilities. A lack of camaraderie can damage effective collaboration between coworkers. This is because they otherwise would be able to work together but are subject to bullying and other harassment issues at work.

sexism page burning

Ways to Prevent Workplace Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment can be prevented within organisations. In order to ensure your company is dedicated to workplace health along with adhering to anti-discrimination laws, preventing workplace bullying is key. Below are a few ways to protect your staff’s health and safety from experiencing workplace harassment. 

  1. Implement a clear anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy that is communicated to all the staff and enforced consistently. Also, provide clear policies surrounding the anti-discrimination law stances on racial harassment, age discrimination, and other harassment types that can negatively impact staff performance, productivity, and health.
  2. Provide regular training and education for all employees on what constitutes harassment and bullying and the consequences of engaging in such behaviour. One of the easiest ways to implement this is by using employee training software. You can then ensure that your employees are up-to-date with the latest harassment protocols and can be made aware of any difficulties that the company is facing.
  3. Encourage employees to speak up, report bullying incidents, and ensure that there are multiple channels for reporting such behaviour. Provide advice to staff regarding how to safely report issues and ensure no retaliation for the person reporting it.
  4. Investigate all reported incidents thoroughly and take appropriate action to address and prevent future occurrences.
  5. Take appropriate action against staff who engage in harassment or bullying behaviours, including disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. Provide advice and support to help workers report workplace violence to the local police station if possible. 
  6. Encourage workers to support each other and to speak out against discrimination and bullying whenever they witness it.
1200 800 Ronan Bray