Violence and harassment at work ‘almost always a pattern’, study finds

Violence and harassment in the British workplace is rife, after a global safety charity report found that 26% of people have experienced it in their working lifetime – above the global average of 21%. The new report, Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment, based on Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup, also found that 58% of British respondents who have experienced workplace violence and harassment say this has happened three or more times.

While the report suggests that men are fractionally more likely to report having experienced violence and harassment at work at a global level (22% vs 20% of women), the most vulnerable sub-groups, as identified by the report, are mostly comprised of women.

For example, women with a tertiary education were found to be second most at risk globally, with 29% (or 36% in the UK) reporting experiences of violence and harassment at work. In comparison, 15% of women with primary education only (25% in the UK) reported the same experiences, highlighting a gap between education levels.

Globally, those already affected by discrimination outside of work – for instance gender, ethnicity or disability-based – are twice as likely to experience violence and harassment in the workplace (39% compared to 16%). In the UK, 48% of those who had experienced discrimination on the basis of gender had faced violence and harassment at work.

Suzanne Maybud, an international consultant on gender equality and women’s advancement in the workplace, commented: “While many are aware of violence and harassment in the workplace, the country-specific figures, provided by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, are especially valuable to showcase just how widespread it can be in any given location – and who’s most at risk.

“While certain groups, including university-educated women, showed higher rates of violence and harassment in the workplace, it’s important to remember other vulnerable groups may not feel as empowered to report it, meaning the actual figures could be even higher.

“There’s almost always a pattern to it. That’s why an inclusive, zero-tolerance approach to labour laws must be taken by policymakers. This will enable those suffering from violence or harassment in the workplace to feel comfortable enough to report it – with the knowledge that there will be real consequences for the perpetuators. By taking a strong stance, lawmakers have a real opportunity to engineer cultural change that can then trickle down to the company level and protect all workers.”

Dr Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, added: “The World Risk Poll provides the first global and comparable measure of violence and harassment in the workplace, information which is critical to support serious and targeted action to tackle the issue in countries around the world.

“While some of the countries and groups that report the highest levels of experience may at first glance be surprising, this granular data helps us to understand both where interventions are needed to address a recognised problem, and where further work may be required to raise awareness and encourage greater reporting.”

To compile the global report, 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace violence and harassment. All those interviewed were given a comprehensive definition of ‘violence and harassment’.