Workplace harassment, workplace bullying, no matter how you call it: it is still very much present in today’s working environment. In spite of all the efforts of our times to eradicate harassment in the office, the bad corporate conduct in and out of the cubicle is rising!
Why? Nobody can honestly give you an answer that will address this question fully and comprehensively. All of us are humans, and we all make decisions based on our experiences, expectations, and desires. So, in some way, it is not possible to entirely terminate the existence of harassment.
What we can do, however, is give our best to fight any emerging injustices and prevent the following tragedies. Hopefully, your experience, expectations, and desires tell you should fight against such wrongdoings. If so, then great, the eagerness is a vital component to succeeding at this task, but at first, before we start fighting all of the inequalities of this world inside and outside the office, we need to do something.
As the quite old, or even ancient quote from Sun Tzu says: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” We are pretty sure that our readers are already pretty acquainted with themselves, so, let us get to know what we are dealing with. There is so much to workplace harassment, and so many types that waiting is not on the table.
There are many types of workplace harassment; we will start with the biggest one. The reason for this is that unlike the types further down the article describe the way harassment is conducted. Discriminatory describes the reasoning for harassment, i.e., on what grounds someone is being vexed. Due to human nature, the reasons are virtually endless: the victim is being singled out based on some characteristic. Most commonly, the victim is a subject to hostility because that very trait they have.
I will stop talking so abstractly and give some examples of the categories on which workers all over the world are being harassed.
This type of harassment in the workplace bases on the disabilities that some people live with and experience every day. The harassed individuals either suffer from a physical or mental disability themselves, are connected to a disabled person, or use disability services. Most commonly, they experience harassment in the form of:
- patronizing treatment;
- refusal to appropriate accommodation.
For example, imagine being continuously questioned on whether you can perform your job. Not very nice, isn’t it?
Sexual Orientation Harassment
Next up is sexuality-based harassment at work. Thankfully, this type is getting a lot of attention lately and being more and more recognized as an existing and very important workplace problem. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago.
People of any sexual orientation experience this kind of harassment, including heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, and so on. People can get verbally and physically harassed for taking up a job not commonly taken up for their own sexuality, for example, homosexual in a mine or a heterosexual man in a hair salon.
This work harassment concerns people with non-binary genders. If you don’t know the difference between this and the previous type of harassment, then I got bad news for you. You are partially contributing to the problem. No worries, though! It’s never late to learn.
The working environment is dominated by people who self-identify either as a male or female. Trans people, agenders, pangenders, and the like usually receive a lot of verbal (sometimes even physical) aggression and mistreatment towards them.
I think there is no second-guessing what this type of harassment at workplace is. When a certain racial group dominates a working environment, people belonging to other races can be:
- singled out;
- degraded with racial slurs, insults, and jokes, degrading comments;
- be met with disgust.
This happens not only when the harassed person actually belongs to other races but also when this person has only perceived attributes of ethnicity that differs from the dominating group. Such attributes include curly hair, accents, customs, beliefs or clothing.
This type is often closely related to and intertwined with racial harassment. However, it would be foolish not to acknowledge the religion-based harassment because many people get persecuted on the sole basis of their religion.
The harassed individual has a religion that is different from the most widely spread religion in the company. The usual intolerance they experience is the unacceptance of religious holidays, traditions, and customs. People of other faiths experience pressure to convert religions and suffer from stereotypical comments.
Age-based harassment is often direct towards people who are either “too old” or “too young” for the job. Besides deeply offending and belittling the harassed person, this type can disrupt the working flow. Young workers get slack for being in positions of power; they are unfairly criticized and are not obeyed too. Older workers and usually teased, insulted, left out of activities, and prompted to retire.
In this type, the victim is harassed based not on any special criteria but only on the sole reason of being themselves. A typical example would be when a boss or a manager picks one employee to pick on. The decision may not be the harasser’s explicit decision, but it has real consequences. And what’s worse is that it is mostly legal.
Personal harassment encompasses:
- degrading comments;
- offensive jokes;
- humiliation on a personal level;
- constant critical remarks;
Usually, it is done to create an unbearable working environment for the victim and drive the out of a job.
Verbal harassment is usually some minor (or not so minor) conflict of interests that grows into a metaphorical battle. Verbal assault is not discriminatory in nature, making it often legal. This kind of harassment can thrive under the nose of management and keep being unresolved for a long time.
A common case of verbal harassment is when two coworkers disagree (or one employee with a whole group of other employees) on some matter. At some point, the debate devolves into verbal abuse in the workplace, including threatening, yelling, insulting and cursing.
This type is often called workplace violence. It includes any attacks of a physical nature like punching, kicking, biting, direct threats of intent to inflicting harm, intimidation through private property destruction, and general threatening behavior. These attacks are very much illegal and should never be tolerated. When the emotions explode, then the physical harassment can even grow into assault.
The receiver always defines physical harassment, so, it can be difficult to make a distinction between simple physical contact and unlawful harassment. Even playful shoving can be considered harassment if one of the participating parties is uncomfortable because of this action.
The following type of harassment is the complete opposite of the previous one. Psychological harassment focuses on worsening the victim’s psychological well-being, instead of physical well-being. However, due to the interconnectedness of our body and psyche, psychological harassment at work eventually degrades physical health, social and work life of the victim.
Psychological harassment can take the form of:
- denying the victim’s rights;
- isolating them;
- trivializing the victim’s life;
- belittling their thoughts;
- challenging and questioning everything the victim says;
- discrediting and spreading rumors about the victim.
This is very much emotional abuse at work.
Cyberbullying and psychological harassment are very close to each other. Internet tools that are designed to streamline the working environment can be mediators of some really nasty behaviors. Due to the nature of internet communication, harassment cannot be violent. Still, it is capable of completely destroying a person’s social and work life. How?
By sharing devastatingly humiliating things about the victim via mass email or chat, spreading lies and gossip about the victim, and continuously sending harassing messages to the victim. Although there are no explicit cyberbullying laws, the harassers can be prosecuted under another law, which can bring a resolution to the online harassment.
This type of harassment is basically when one employee sexually pursues another while the latter doesn’t want such advances. Unwanted sexual conduct/behavior encompasses:
- sharing pornography;
- making sexual comments, jokes, questions;
- touching the victim inappropriately;
- making inappropriate sexual gestures towards the victim;
- invading the victim’s personal space in a sexual manner.
Sexual harassment is not always about sex but rather about power. By sexually harassing another employee, the harasser exhibits power over that employee, which is why we usually imagine some boss doing this towards their employees when we hear the phrase sexual harassment.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
This type, however, unlike the previous one, always concerns sex. The translation of this phrase is “this for that”, meaning that something is exchanged for sex. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is very specific, yet entirely unique out of the whole list.
The usual situation for this type is when an employee is being approached and either some professional or career-related bonuses in exchange for sex. Additionally, only senior employees partake in quid pro quo harassment.
Power-based harassment concentrates on showing the differences between the social and professional situation of the victim and the harasser. Office hierarchy is the name of the game here, and the one lower will be buried in demands they can’t meet, tasks that are comically easy yet monotonous and senseless, and personal life intrusion. In other words, the victim meets supervisor harassment.
This kind of harassment pops up only in response to the previous action that the victim took towards the harasser. For example, the victim makes a comment to the managers that the harasser doesn’t meet the working quota, the harasser finds out who made the complaint, and then harasses the victim until the harasser is satisfied.
Third Party Harassment
Lastly, there is third-party harassment. This harassment stems from people who are outside of the organization, for example, a vendor, supplier, customer or client of the company. This type is a part of the workplace harassment because the victim is harassed due to them working specific jobs in which they have to converse with their clients daily. The victims are usually young people working “dead-end” jobs.
Strategies to Combat Workplace Harassment
Now that we’re done discussing types of harassment at work let’s look at the possible ways to fight the mistreatment of employees and promote a safe environment for everybody.
- Adopt a formal harassment prevention training policy and program.
- Enforce the active role of management in creating awareness of the problem.
- Deliver regular bullying prevention training to all employees.
- Cultivate a friendly and respectful working environment.
- Work with HRs to screen out potentially disruptive figures.
- Establish a safe way to report bullying and harassment.
- Create a mediation routine to resolve problems in the organization.
- Emphasize reducing negativity in the workplace.
- Terminate employees who continue to behave in a harmful way.
- Eradicate a bad culture of bullying or harassment.
- Make sure security systems are in place to prevent violence.
Although we may never stop harassment, we can at least significantly diminish it.