Unmasking Harassment in the WorkplaceWorkplace harassment entails the targeted mistreatment and bullying of an individual or a smaller group by a single colleague, a collective of individuals, or even managers within the work environment. It can manifest in various forms, such as verbal abuse, exclusion, spreading rumors, and even physical intimidation. The effect of harassment at work is harmful to both individuals and organisations. Employees who become victims of workplace harassment may suffer from anxiety or depression, which leads to decreased job satisfaction, lower productivity, and higher employee turnover. From an organizational standpoint, workplace harassment contributes to a toxic work environment, lowered employee morale, and reputational damage to the company. Do you know how to identify signs of workplace harassment? By recognizing these signs early on, employers and colleagues can intervene and address the issue before it escalates, and it is crucial for maintaining a healthy and supportive work environment. Here are some common signs that may indicate harassment is taking place in an organization:
- • Unusual Behavior. It is one of the first signs to look out for, as it is very noticeable in a colleague’s behavior. They may become more withdrawn and anxious or display signs of fear or distress. The individual may exhibit a loss of enthusiasm or engagement in their work, which is often a result of the emotional toll caused by harassment.
- • Tardiness and Absences. Victims of workplace harassment may try to avoid a hostile environment by taking frequent sick leaves or arriving late to work. It can be a way for them to escape distressing situations or interactions with the harasser.
- • High levels of stress. Harassment in the workplace can significantly impact an individual’s stress levels. The regular pressure and anxiety experienced by harassment in the workplace can lead to physical and emotional signs of stress, such as irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, or sleep disturbances.
- • Social Isolation. Victims of harassment may isolate themselves from their colleagues and social interactions. They may withdraw from team activities, avoid engaging in conversations, or appear distant. This isolation serves as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from further mistreatment.
- • Declining Performance. Workplace harassment can harm an employee’s job performance. Victims may struggle to concentrate, experience a decline in their productivity, or have difficulty meeting deadlines. The psychological impact of harassment can significantly reduce their ability to perform at their best.
Crucial Elements for a Harassment-Free EnvironmentCreating a positive workplace culture is an important part in establishing an environment that rejects harassment and prioritizes the safety, respect, and support of all individuals. A positive workplace culture can significantly contribute to preventing harassment incidents and addressing them effectively when they occur. Here are some tips for creating a healthy and harassment-free workplace environment:
- • Respect is a fundamental aspect of any healthy workplace. It involves treating others with dignity, valuing their opinions, and recognizing their contributions. Respect plays a crucial part in a healthy work environment, as it supports fair treatment without any prejudices, abuse, or mistreatment. Both employees and employers must foster an atmosphere of respect and address any disrespectful behavior promptly.
- • Caring for personal well-being and protecting ourselves from harassment requires learning to draw personal boundaries. It involves understanding and communicating our physical and emotional limits. Clearly expressing what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, can help prevent harassment and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Communicating personal boundaries clearly is a skill that allows us to protect ourselves and foster a culture of respect in the workplace. Employers should encourage open communication and provide employees with the necessary tools and support to define and maintain their boundaries.
- • Security in the workplace refers to physical and emotional safety. Organisations are responsible for providing a safe working environment where there is no room for any threats or danger. It includes taking measures to prevent and address harassment incidents, conducting regular risk assessments, and implementing appropriate security protocols. In organisations, it is essential to have clear policies and procedures to handle harassment complaints and provide employees with the confidence that their concerns will be taken seriously.
- • Supporting colleagues who may be experiencing harassment is a relevant aspect of creating a safe work environment. If someone witnesses or suspects harassment, it is crucial to take action by offering assistance and reporting the incident through the appropriate channels. Providing emotional support, encouraging open communication, and standing up against harassment collectively can help create a culture of support and solidarity in the workplace. By demonstrating empathy and offering help, individuals contribute to a positive and safe workplace environment.
Empower Through EducationEmployers should prioritize the prevention of psychological workplace violence due to the potential consequences it can have. The impact can extend beyond potential conflicts and decrease employee morale. High turnover rates and decreased productivity are likely outcomes as well. Even isolated incidents of psychological violence can have significant effects on a company or organization’s overall performance. One effective prevention measure is fostering open communication and establishing a supportive work environment. Employers should actively encourage respectful interactions among employees, and this can be achieved by implementing and enforcing a set of conduct guidelines applicable to all. Additionally, organisations can take steps to educate and train both employees and managers. Providing training sessions equips individuals with the necessary skills to identify and address bullying, manage stress, and effectively resolve conflicts. By practicing real-life scenarios, participants learn how to proactively prevent conflicts and take appropriate actions to maintain a harmonious work environment. To help organisations prevent situations of violence and harassment in the workplace we created an e-learning course called “Preventing Psychological Violence and Harassment”. The course helps organisations prevent instances of violence and harassment and provides knowledge on how to recognize and address the manifestations of psychological violence and harassment at the level of managers, between managers and subordinates, and among colleagues. This training material was prepared in collaboration with psychologist Ugne Juodyte, who has over 13 years of experience. She works individually with clients and organisations, conducts training sessions, and writes articles on self-awareness and coping with emotional difficulties. Her areas of expertise include burnout, fatigue, and stress management techniques. The training provides essential knowledge on how to recognize manifestations of violence and harassment and helps to address problematic situations by redirecting them in a more positive direction. The course teaches self-care and tools for assisting colleagues, providing resources and knowledge to establish personal boundaries.
ConclusionsThe psychological health of employees cannot be forgotten or taken for granted. The key to promoting a positive work environment that not only benefits employees but also drives the organization toward long-term success is to prioritize well-being in the workplace by taking real actions to prevent violence and harassment. The old saying, “Prevention is better than cure” reminds us that it is better to avoid that a problem does not happen than to solve it afterward.