Workplace harassment still happens remotely, says 38% of employees

Cyberbullying and other forms of harassment have caused a third of the U.S. workforce to join the Great Resignation

Workplace harassment still happens remotely, says 38% of employees

If you thought working from home would prevent harassment on the job, think again.

More than one-third (38%) of employees have experienced harassment through email, video conferencing, chat apps, or by phone, according to The 2021 State of Workplace Harassment. The report was commissioned by AllVoices, an online platform for employees to report workplace harassment, and polled more than 800 full-time employees in the United States.

Although working from home has its benefits, it also diminishes open lines of communication between employers and employees. That reduces workers’ abilities to report cyberbullying, harassment, and discrimination. In fact, 24% of employees surveyed believe harassment continues or worsens on remote channels. That’s disconcerting considering that an estimated 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, according to work marketplace Upwork.

Whether at home or in the office, employees need to feel comfortable reporting misconduct to the HR department or even their supervisors. It’s a major issue for employers, says Tom Miller, co-founder and CEO of ClearForce, a cyber and employee risk management company based in Vienna, Virginia.

“What we’re hearing from our customers is that they spent a lot of time initially setting up their employees’ ability to work, especially from a cybersecurity perspective,” Miller says. “But now it’s shifted from a technology standpoint to a people issue. Employers are having to figure out how to create a safer and more secure environment for their employees.”

Read more: Former employee accuses Sony of gender discrimination

Miller says there are two solutions that employers need to focus on: prevention and response.

First, the HR department needs to define what exactly harassment and cyberbullying are, giving examples of incidents and behaviors that won’t be tolerated. Then, the HR department should explain the process for reporting those incidents, making it as easy as possible for victims to contact the powers that be and explain what happened.

“Part of this underreporting issue is that employees just don’t know what to report,” Miller says. “Companies need to proactively communicate these policies to employees, as early as the onboarding process.”

According to The State of Workplace Harassment report, 50% of workers who experienced harassment did report it, with most selecting to report to their direct manager (55.3%) followed by HR (36.4%). However, 34% of employees have left a job due to unresolved harassment concerns.

In the past, some employees would stay and endure harassment out of financial necessity. But in this currently tight labor market, many employees realize they have options, says Haley Swenson, the deputy director at New America’s Better Life Lab, which researches sexual harassment.

“I think some people are feeling more empowered that if an organization isn't serving them and isn't sort of being proactive and letting them know that they take those kinds of concerns seriously, they might just be quitting toxic workplaces,” Swenson told Morning Brew. “They are feeling that it's too uphill to even take on the challenge of trying to address something like harassment within their workplace, so they quit.”

Obviously, no employer wants the reputation of having a toxic workplace, especially in such a competitive labor market. That’s why it’s vital for employers to ensure that employees feel heard when reporting such incidents. Although many companies have 1-800 hotlines for reporting harassment, Miller suggests that they’re simply not effective.

“Employees don’t believe the phone line is anonymous,” Miller says. “As a result, they’re not reporting issues. They’re not only concerned it will cause negative impacts for them, but they’re also worried their report won’t get to the right person and be handled in a consistent way without favoritism or bias.”

Employees should be encouraged to contact their supervisor or HR through email or over the phone, knowing that their conversation will be confidential and dealt with in a timely fashion. Miller also suggests introducing web-based apps that allow employees to anonymously report incidents. Of course, the caveat is that whoever receives those reports must act accordingly.

If even one report slips through the cracks, or information leaks to individuals who shouldn’t be part of the communication chain, employees will be less inclined to speak up.

“You have to create an element of trust,” Miller says. “It’s essential for employers to find opportunities to bring more channels of communication into this process.”

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