Why are workers hesitant to report harassment?

Fear of backlash, stigma are top concerns, according to survey

Why are workers hesitant to report harassment?

Too often, people are afraid to speak up about harassment or uncomfortable situations at work.

Why? One of the top reasons is safety concerns and fear of backlash from the perpetrator (33 per cent), according to a survey from the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (WomanACT).

This is more common among women (41 per cent) than men (25 per cent).

There are several other reasons why workers are reluctant to speak up:

  • They fear the stigma of speaking up (28 per cent, with 33 per cent of women and 24 per cent of men).
  • No action was taken after behaviour was reported before (24 per cent, with 27 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men).
  • They fear reporting it will affect career advancement (23 per cent among all respondents and 23 per cent among both men and women).
  • They fear their employment will be terminated (17 per cent).
  • They do not know who to report the incident to (nine per cent).

Of note, six in 10 employees would feel more comfortable intervening or reporting incidents of violence or harassment they witness if they had adequate workplace training, finds the survey of 1,510 Canadians. This number is higher for women (68 per cent) then men (56 per cent).

The federal government brought in major new rules around workplace harassment that took effect in January 2021.

Harassment common at work

Four in 10 Canadian workers (42 per cent) say they have experienced some form of harassment in the workplace. That number was true for 50 per cent of women versus 33 per cent of men.

And one-third of employees have felt unsafe or uncomfortable at work, finds WomanACT. This number was considerably higher for women (41 per cent) than for men (25 per cent).

In promising support, Unifor recently called the escalating harassment faced by Canadian journalists – particularly online and targeting women and workers of colour – “absolutely unacceptable” and condemned the behaviour.

Looking to gauge the severity of violence and harassment in Canada’s workplaces – and what kind of response is being given – Canadian researchers have launched a national survey.

Encourage workers to speak up

Fostering a culture of dialogue can help address the problem, says Scott Robley, director of training success at leadership training company VitalSmarts.

“These are emotional things, and when we confront these kinds of issues, emotions kick in, adrenaline kicks in, and we’re not at our best and we don’t know how to control it. So, I think, number one, it’s about fostering and encouraging and inviting dialogue.”

This is important especially when a worker has been bullied, according to Randstad.

“If someone speaks up and says they’ve been bullied, often our human instinct is to be distrustful, especially if your experience with the bully has been different. Make an effort to understand and respect people who say they have been bullied and listen to their side of the story.

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say you’ve been bullied. Resist the urge to downplay their experiences as ‘in their head’ and ask them what you can do to support them.”

Saskatchewan is looking to make changes to better protect workers from harassment in the workplace.

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