A global poll has given a sense of the magnitude of workplace violence and harassment, with a fifth of respondents (21%) admitting they have experienced at least one form of it during their working lives.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and Lloyd’s Register Foundation commissioned Gallup to poll 125,000 people across 121 countries about their experiences of violence and harassment at work, as well as the nature and frequency, for the Foundation’s 2021 World Risk Poll.
The results of the first-ever global picture are published in two new reports, the joint Experiences of violence and harassment at work: A global first survey and Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment , both of which suggest that violence and harassment are commonplace and may be at levels not previously acknowledged.
For instance, 61% of respondents who reveal they have experienced psychological harassment in the workplace, such as insults, threats, bullying or intimidation, say it has happened three or more times.
The poll finds similar figures for physical violence and harassment, such as hitting or spitting (56%) and sexual (52%) violence and harassment.
Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a global safety charity, is calling for reform of workplace policies and says that a zero-tolerance approach to violence and harassment is needed.
Dr Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, says that this is the first time we have had global, comparable data and the results reveal important findings that should inform workplace policies.
Although men are fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women, the data reveals that the different sexes have varying experiences.
For instance, both men and women respondents cite psychological harassment as the most common form experienced. However, a third of women (33%) who have experienced violence or harassment, say there has been a sexual element, such as unwanted sexual touching, comments, pictures, emails or sexual requests, compared to 15% of men.
Significantly, women with a tertiary education are found to be at a high risk, with 29% reporting experiences compared to 15% of women with a primary education.
The research findings highlight how certain groups are particularly vulnerable. For example, 30% of migrant women say they have experienced some form of violence and harassment at work, compared with 21% of women who are working in their country of birth. The poll has found that this has also affected the likelihood of the woman reporting the incident.
In addition, the poll findings also highlight how discriminated groups are at heightened risk.
The data shows that 39% of respondents who have experienced any form of discrimination during their working lives, for instance gender, ethnicity or disability-based, have revealed that they have also experienced violence and harassment at work. This compares to only 16% who have not experienced discrimination.
Cumbers says it is clear from the data that many people haven’t told anyone about their experiences. This could be, for instance, because current procedures aren’t clear or because the individual doesn’t feel any action will be taken if they disclose this sensitive information.
‘That’s why employers must establish and clearly communicate robust anti-violence and harassment policies and build workplace environments where employees feel comfortable coming forward, with the knowledge that something will be done about it,’ she says.
‘Our research has found a majority of those who have experienced violence and harassment at work will experience it again, emphasising the importance of early intervention and not dismissing incidents as “one offs”. We hope our report will encourage lawmakers around the world to strengthen legal frameworks, and companies to re-evaluate their culture, policies and processes.’