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A fifth of workers have experienced violence and harassment, study finds

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A global safety charity is calling for reform of workplace policies after its research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime.

Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment

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The Poll reveals pervasive and recurring workplace violence and harassment

More worryingly, it also found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.

The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.

The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes. While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men). The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.

A number of subgroups were also highlighted by the poll as being more vulnerable, further demonstrating a need for inclusive workplace policies. Three in 10 (30%) migrant women said they had experienced some form of violence and harassment at work, compared with two in five women (21%) working in their country of birth. This also affected the likelihood of reporting the incident. Overall, 61.1% of native-born women told someone about their experience of violence and harassment – compared to 56.5% of foreign-born women.

More broadly, the report identified that those who had experienced discrimination were at heightened risk. As such, almost two in five people globally (39%) who had experienced any form of discrimination – such as gender, ethnicity or disability-based – said they had also experienced violence and harassment at work, compared to 16% of those who had not experienced discrimination.

Dr Sarah Cumbers, Former Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “This is the first time we have had global, comparable data on violence and harassment at work, and the resulting figures are daunting. The situation looks even worse when we delve deeper into the data to look at the experiences of some more vulnerable groups – such as migrant women and those who have experienced discrimination.

“From the Word Risk Poll data, we can also see that many people haven’t told anyone about their experiences – for instance, because the procedures for doing so were unclear, or because they felt no action would be taken. 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.

“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.”