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Violence and harassment at work ‘almost always a pattern’, study finds

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Violence and harassment in workplaces across the world is rife, with a global safety charity report finding that two in five (21%) of those who have ever worked have experienced it in their lifetime.

21% 21%

Two in five have experienced harassment or violence at their workplace in their lifetime.

Global data highlights workplace violence and harassment

The new report, Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment, based on the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup, also found that more than three in five people (61%) who have experienced psychological harassment say this has happened three or more times – with similar figures for physical (56%) and sexual (52%) violence and harassment.

While the report suggests that men are fractionally more likely to report having experienced violence and harassment at work at a global level (22% vs 20% of women), the most vulnerable sub-groups, as identified by the report, are mostly comprised of women.

For example, migrant women were found to be at especially heightened risk – 30% of them having experienced violence and harassment compared with 21% of women working in their country of birth. Meanwhile, women with a tertiary education were found to at high risk, with 29% reporting experiences of violence and harassment at work. In comparison, 15% of women with primary education only reported the same experiences, highlighting a large gap between education levels.

The Poll also dissects country data, which revealed that all five Nordic nations – Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are among the top ten countries where the highest proportion of people reported experiencing violence and harassment at work. In all five, women are significantly more likely than men to say they have been affected, with the biggest gap – 23 percentage points – seen in Denmark.

Globally, those already affected by discrimination outside of work – for instance gender, ethnicity or disability-based – are twice as likely to experience violence and harassment in the workplace (39% compared to 16%). Gender-based discrimination was found to have the largest impact (46% of those who had experienced it had also experienced workplace violence and harassment), closely followed by discrimination on the basis of skin colour (44%), and nationality / ethnicity (42%).

Susan Maybud, an international consultant on gender equality and women’s advancement in the workplace, commented: “While many are aware of violence and harassment in the workplace, the country-specific figures provided by Lloyd’s Register Foundation are especially valuable to understand who is most at risk in different parts of the world.

“While certain groups, including university-educated women, reported higher rates of violence and harassment in the workplace, it’s important to remember other vulnerable groups may not feel as empowered to tell anyone about their experience, meaning the true figures could be even higher.

“There’s almost always a pattern to it. That’s why an inclusive, zero-tolerance approach to labour laws must be taken by policymakers. This will enable those suffering from violence or harassment in the workplace to feel comfortable enough to report it – with the knowledge that there will be real consequences for the perpetrators. By taking a strong stance, lawmakers have a real opportunity to engineer cultural change that can then trickle down to the company level and protect all workers.”

Dr Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, added: “The World Risk Poll provides the first global and comparable measure of violence and harassment in the workplace, information which is critical to support serious and targeted action to tackle the issue in countries around the world.

“While some of the countries and groups that report the highest levels of experience may at first glance be surprising, this granular data helps us to understand both where interventions are needed to address a recognised problem, and where further work may be required to raise awareness and encourage greater reporting.”

To compile the global report, 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace violence and harassment. All those interviewed were given a comprehensive definition of each of the three forms of ‘violence and harassment’ (physical, psychological, and sexual) that they were asked about.