‘Widespread phenomenon’: Workplace violence, harassment
MANILA, Philippines—More than one in five people in employment—22.8 percent—has experienced violence and harassment at work, whether physical, psychological, or sexual.
A joint analysis by the International Labour Organization, Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF), and analytics company Gallup showed that at least 743 million people globally have experienced workplace violence and harassment in their working life.
The report, “Experiences of Violence and Harassment at Work: A global first survey”, was based on data collected from respondents in 121 countries, including the Philippines.
It provided a global overview of people’s experiences—focusing on the magnitude and frequency of violence and harassment at work, the main forms of violence experienced by employed persons (physical, psychological, or sexual), and the main barriers that prevent people from talking about it.
‘A widespread, recurrent, and persistent phenomenon’
Data showed that about a third of people who had experienced violence and harassment at work—around 31.8 percent—said they experienced more than one form.
At least 6.3 percent said they went through all three forms of violence and harassment at work.
Aside from being a widespread phenomenon around the world, the report found that workplace violence and harassment is also a “recurrent and persistent phenomenon.”
The survey conducted by ILO, LRF, and Gallup found that more than three in five victims had the traumatizing experience multiple times. Most of them said the last incident took place within the last five years.
“It’s painful to learn that people face violence and harassment not just once but multiple times in their working lives,” said Manuela Tomei, ILO assistant director-general for governance, rights and dialogue.
In a joint statement, ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo, LRF Chief Executive Ruth Boumphrey, and Gallup Chief Executive Officer Jon Clifton stressed that violence and harassment at work cause harm to individuals, families, businesses, and societies.
“It affects people’s lives, dignity, health, and well-being. It also exacerbates inequality in societies and undermines business productivity. There should be no place for and no tolerance of violence and harassment at work – anywhere,” they added.
Psychological violence and harassment
Psychological violence and harassment were the most common form of violence and harassment, according to the report, with nearly one in five—17.9 percent or 583 million—people in employment who reported that they experienced it in their working life.
This form of workplace violence and harassment includes insults, threats, bullying, or intimidation.
Data further showed that out of those who have experienced psychological violence and harassment at work, at least 80 percent or at least 463 million people—regardless of their sexual orientation—experienced such “unacceptable behavior” within the past five years.
“Overall, women registered higher prevalence than men, both in their working life and in the past five years, although with modest differences (by 1.3 percentage points and 0.6 percentage points, respectively),” the report stated.
Across the world, more than three in five people in employment who have experienced psychological violence and harassment at work—at least 38.6 percent—said the same incident had happened to them three or more times.
“Further, almost two in five victims (38.6 percent) said it had occurred more than five times over the course of their working life.”
Men more likely to experience physical violence, harassment
Almost one in ten persons in employment have reportedly experienced physical violence and harassment at work in their working life, according to ILO.
This translates to 8.5 percent or 277 million persons worldwide who have experienced this form of workplace violence and harassment.
“Nearly one in ten (8.5 percent or 277 million) persons in employment has experienced physical violence and harassment at work in their working life. Men were more likely than women to report experiencing physical violence and harassment,” the report noted.
Physical violence and harassment at work, according to survey results, are more commonly experienced by men (9 percent) than women (7.7 percent).
Cases of recurring physical violence and harassment at work are also more common among men than women—55.7 percent and 52.2 percent, respectively.
In general, physical violence and harassment were recurrent events for the majority of those who have experienced it, with 55.3 percent of victims worldwide saying they had faced it three or more times in their working life.
More women are victims of sexual violence, harassment
Globally, one in 15—6.3 percent or 205 million—people have experienced sexual violence and harassment at work in their working life. These include instances of unwanted sexual touching, comments, pictures, e-mails, or sexual requests.
Of those, over two-thirds—71.4 percent—faced these incidents within the last five years, “meaning that 4.5 percent or approximately 147 million people in employment worldwide were recently exposed to this scourge.”
More women than men experience this kind of workplace violence and harassment—8.2 percent and 5 percent, respectively—over the course of their working life.
According to ILO, this is “by far the largest gender difference in experience of violence and harassment at work among the three forms of violence and harassment.”
Who are at risk?
“The risk of experiencing violence and harassment at work is not equally distributed across different demographic groups; instead, some individuals, especially those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, experience higher prevalence rates,” the ILO noted.
“Often within these groups, women are at greater risk than men,” it added.
Among different age groups, younger people in employment or those between ages 15-24 were most likely to have experienced violence and harassment at work within the past five years—with a prevalence of 23.3 percent.
The prevalence of violence and harassment at work, the report found, decreases with age—from 20.2 percent among employed persons aged 25-34 to 12 percent for those aged 55 years and above.
Employed migrants also reported a higher prevalence of workplace violence and harassment at work in the last five years (31 percent).
Of these, migrant women were found to be 8.7 percentage points more likely to have experienced violence and harassment at work (26.6 percent versus 17.9 percent).
“When looking at different forms of violence and harassment, migrant women were almost twice as likely as non‑migrant women to report sexual violence and harassment (10.0 percent versus 5.4 percent),” the report said.
In the last five years, wage and salaried workers were also more likely to have experienced violence and harassment at work (19 percent) than those who are self-employed (16.8 percent).
The prevalence of workplace violence and harassment at work was also high among persons affected by discrimination.
These include employed persons who have experienced discrimination based on skin color, religion, gender, or disability—who have also experienced violence and harassment at work.
A difficult topic
Unfortunately, personal experiences of violence and harassment at work remain to be a difficult topic to talk about.
According to ILO, several factors, including fear of stigmatization, lack of knowledge of reporting and monitoring systems, “normalization” of violence and harassment, and re-victimization or retaliation risks prevent victims from talking about and even reporting their experiences.
Survey results found that globally, only 54.4 percent of people in employment who had experienced violence and harassment in the past five years said they had disclosed it to someone else.
Female victims, according to data, were most likely to share their harmful experiences with others (60 percent) than male victims (50.1 percent).
The survey also found that the victim’s decision to share their experiences depends on the form of violence and harassment at work they were subjected to.
“Persons who had experienced only physical violence and harassment in the past five years were the least likely to reveal it, at 37.6 percent,” the report stated.
“The disclosure rate was higher among those who had experienced only psychological violence and harassment, at 51.1 percent, and higher still among those who had experienced only sexual violence and harassment, at 62.0 percent,” it added.
Moreover, victims were more likely to talk about their experiences of violence and harassment at work to the following channels:
- a friend or family member: 84.9 percent
- a co-worker: 70.4 percent
- their employer or supervisor: 55.3 percent
- the police, a community leader, or a labor inspector: 16 percent
- a trade union representative: 14.8 percent
- social services or a not-for-profit organization: 9.2 percent
Survey respondents who did not share their experiences of violence and harassment at work cited the following reasons for refusing to talk about what they went through:
- thought it was a waste of time: 55 percent
- fear for reputation: 44.5 percent
- procedures at work were unclear: 43.1 percent
- lack of trust in the police, community leaders, and labor inspectors: 42.5 percent
- victims were worried people would find out about it at work: 40.8 percent
- victims did not know what to do: 38.3 percent
- fear of punishment: 33.2 percent
“Overall, survey results show that talking about violence and harassment still represents a challenge for many victims, with only one in two people willing to share their experience with someone else,” the ILO said.
What should be done?
“To tackle global safety challenges as difficult and deep-rooted as violence and harassment at work, it is critical to have good data to understand the extent of the problem and to identify those most at risk, especially in places where little reliable data may have existed previously,” said Sarah Cumbers, director of evidence and insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation.
The ILO, LRF, and Gallup made a range of recommendations in a bid to address the widespread cases of violence and harassment at work.
Among these recommendations was the regular collection of robust data on violence and harassment at work, at national, regional, and global levels—which could help in the creation of prevention and remediation laws and mechanisms, policies and programs, and research and advocacy.
The report also recommended extending and updating mechanisms “to effectively prevent and manage violence and harassment in the world of work, including through labor inspection systems and occupational safety and health policies and programs.”
It also called for increased awareness of violence and harassment at work—“including its different manifestations, with a view to changing perceptions, stigmas, attitudes, and behaviors that can perpetuate violence and harassment, particularly those based on discrimination.”
Lastly, the ILO-LRF-Gallup study suggested enhancing the capacity of institutions at all levels to deliver effective prevention, remediation, and support, to build people’s trust in justice and ensure victims are supported.