Workplace Harassment Couldn’t Ever Happen to Me – Could It?

You think you’re perceptive enough to recognize harassment, and it can never happen to you. Then at the office, your interaction with a specific colleague starts to give you bad vibes. As each day passes, you feel more and more distressed around this person and his or her off-color remarks. You even start to dread coming to work or even being in the same vicinity as this individual. 

Ever since the #MeToo movement, it is hard to believe that such work environments still exist. Unfortunately, however, many instances of workplace harassment still occur, even today, and it can happen to anyone. While measures against workplace harassment have increased, more still needs to be done to nip harassment in the bud.

The Psychology of Harassment

Harassment occurs when people coerce or manipulate others to attain their own objectives. They may be cooperative when their agendas are being satisfied, but they often act dishonestly and unjustly. These individuals normally exploit or oppress those with a position below or equal to themselves. However, they may even strong-arm their managers or supervisors as well.

People tend to think that harassers, or workplace bullies, have low self-worth. This is not entirely accurate. In fact, most harassers hold themselves in high regard, often to the point of arrogance or cockiness. The driving factor behind their bullying is actually a sense of shame. In berating others, these people feel more powerful and, therefore, don’t need to face their internalized feelings of humiliation. 

The Victims

While there are many different methods of harassment, the most common form is sexual harassment. And it does not just affect women alone. Though women report instances of workplace sexual harassment far more often than men, in 2011, men filed 16.3% of the sexual harassment claims

Those who are subject to workplace harassment the most include women; people of different ethnicities, sexual orientation, and national origin; persons with disabilities; and individuals who practice different religions. Age can also play a role. Typically, the perpetrator of the harassment is someone in a higher position and who often uses his or her power to intimidate subordinates. However, it also takes place among co-workers of equal rank.

Harassment can take several different forms, so it is not always sexual in nature. Many times, it manifests in the form of slurs, offensive jokes or stereotyping. It can also involve offensive graphic photographs or material being shown at the workplace. When the harassment is sexual in nature, it can take the form of “quid pro quo” in which an employee must perform sexual favors in order to gain employment, a raise or a promotion. The victim may also feel that he or she must consent to sexual advances in order to keep his or her job.

What Can Be Done About It?

First and foremost, if you are a business owner or supervisor, establish a complaint procedure that employees feel comfortable using to report any problems or incidences. Make sure that you clearly communicate that harassment of any kind is not tolerated. If any harassment does occur, make sure to take action that does not harm the victim or complainant in any way. Treat the case as a court case and investigate thoroughly. Document in detail what occurred and the actions or discipline that were administered. 

To maintain an objective view of the incident, it is helpful to use the “reasonable person” standard. This means soliciting the advice of another person under similar circumstances or attributes. If this individual also concludes that incident constitutes harassment, it most likely is. 

Workplace harassment has been a popular and heated subject for quite some time. As a result, companies have been doing all they can to discourage such behaviors and help victims feel safe enough to speak out. With that said, workplace harassment is still an issue that must be dealt with swiftly. If you or a colleague is facing harassment, don’t deny that it is happening or that you misread the signals. If you feel uncomfortable, communicate your discomfort. If the harassment continues, report it immediately. Trust your gut feeling. It is always right.

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