How Sexual Harassment Affects the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an ongoing risk to the safety of your employees and your business. The implications of sexual harassment in the workplace have a far-reaching impact on everything from your company’s bottom line, to employee morale, and to your reputation.
Sexual Harassment has a serious financial impact.
In 2019 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 7,514 claims of sexual harassment, resulting in $68 million in direct settlements.
Of course, these figures don’t reflect any of the associated legal costs. So even those cases that result in no settlement to the plaintiff can still cost your business tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Usually, though, the cost is much more than financial. Let’s explore more extensively about how sexual harassment affects the workplace.
Sexual harassment impacts employee health.
According to research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, the trauma of sexual harassment leaves lasting effects on women’s health. Women who experienced sexual harassment had almost a 3x higher risk of developing depressive symptoms. Additionally, they also experienced debilitating stress reactions, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and lowered self-esteem, and nausea.
Sexual harassment impacts employee productivity.
Toxic workplaces lead to reduced employee productivity. When an employee has experienced an incident of sexual harassment, or worse a steady campaign of harassment, their output will be affected. Research closely associates sexual harassment with job dissatisfaction and disengagement. Other ways sexual harassment affects the workplace are tardiness, absenteeism, project neglect, and employee distraction.
A Deloitte study puts the productivity loss from sexual harassment at $2.62 billion. One study of 262 women who had reported being harassed found that nearly 75 percent of them felt that the effects of the harassment undermined their job performance. In particular, these women cited decreased motivation to work and an inability to concentrate on their work due to the presence of sexual innuendos.
Sexual harassment impacts employee’s mental health.
Research suggests that employees that observe harassment in the workplace were more likely to experience lower psychological and physical well-being. The driving factors of this mental and physical toll were empathy for the victim, concerns about a hostile workplace, and even fears of becoming the next target of harassment.
Sexual harassment impacts hiring and retention.
Employees are less likely to stay in a toxic environment, and recent research by HR.COM and EVERFI shows that employee turnover is one of the largest impacts of toxic work environments.
Another aspect of how sexual harassment affects the workplace is replacing those leaving staff members can prove equally problematic. The EEOC found that earlier survey uncovered that 58 percent of respondents who witnessed “unfairness” in the workplace in the last year would “to some degree” discourage potential employees from joining the company.
Sexual harassment impacts brand.
Research shows that when consumers witness or are made aware of “incivility” directed at an employee within the workplace, these potential customers can develop negative generalizations which will make them less likely to purchase from the firm. The survey also found that employees that have experienced an “unfair” workplace will even actively discourage potential customers from purchasing products or services from their employer.
What Can You Do?
One of the principal means of combating and preventing workplace harassment is an effective prevention-based harassment training program. Supreme Court rulings have established a clear precedent that companies could reduce their risk of liability by establishing sexual harassment training and reporting policies. In addition, the EEOC released a study on harassment in the workplace that stated: “training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort.” Finally, the Department of Justice has also made it clear that a training program that goes beyond “check the box” is crucial to demonstrate your commitment to preventing harassment.
The effects of sexual harassment in the workplace and associated litigation can present a clear, and present danger to your business. By being proactive, instituting sound policy and offering comprehensive sexual harassment prevention training, you can reduce the likelihood of workplace sexual harassment even occurring.