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Tackling the ongoing threat of workplace harassment

In our modern, enlightened age, it can be easy for office managers to assume that problems like sexual harassment in the workplace are a thing of the past, but research has suggested that's not the case.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project, recently published research showing that more than half (52 per cent) of all women, and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of women between the ages of 18 and 24, have experienced sexual harassment at work.

So this is clearly a problem area where managers need to be taking action to ensure every member of staff feels comfortable and safe in the workplace.

What forms does workplace sexual harassment take?

The TUC study - reportedly the largest of its kind for a generation and one of the most extensive pieces of research on workplace sexual harassment in Europe - showed that this problem can take many forms.

Nearly a third (32 per cent) of women said they had been the subject of inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature at work and 28 per cent had received unwelcome comments about their body or clothes.

It's not uncommon for harassment to go beyond this point and become physical, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents to the survey having experienced unwanted touching in the workplace.

One in five women (20 per cent) revealed they had received unwanted verbal sexual advances, while 12 per cent reported some form of unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work.

In nearly nine out of ten cases (88 per cent), the perpetrator of the harassment was male, while nearly a fifth (17 per cent) of women said they were harassed by their line manager or someone in a position of authority.

Discussing the damaging effects sexual harassment can have, Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said victims are likely to feel undermined and humiliated, with a potential risk of suffering mental health issues in the future.

She said this problem "has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society".

"Employers must be clear they have a zero-tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously," Ms O'Grady added.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, echoed these comments, urging employers to "take urgent action to tackle the problem".

What can I do to tackle sexual harassment?

One of the first steps office managers should take to clamp down on sexual harassment in the workplace is to create a culture in which people feel comfortable to speak out about any negative experiences they have had in the workplace.

Around four out of five women (79 per cent) in the TUC study who had experienced sexual harassment did not tell their employer about it. Common reasons for this included fear about how speaking out would impact workplace relationships (28 per cent), concerns about not being taken seriously (24 per cent) and embarrassment (20 per cent).

It is down to line managers and authority figures in the office to ensure all members of staff feel comfortable to come forward with these sorts of issues.

Female employees - particularly younger women - should be in no doubt that, if they come to their manager to report any form of sexual harassment, they will be supported and the problem will be addressed with urgency and discretion.

Furthermore, all members of staff should be clearly informed that sexual harassment is unacceptable and will be met with a firm response.

When it comes to ensuring your employees feel safe at work, one of the most effective strategies is to invest in a security service.

Having a dedicated, professional security presence in the office will reassure vulnerable members of staff that they are protected from threats - whether they come from inside or outside the workplace. It can also be an effective deterrent to anyone who thinks they can get away with inappropriate or intimidating behaviour.

Posted by Andrew Miller

Image courtesy of iStock/Jayfish

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