Sexual harassment is prevalent in a variety of social settings, including the workplace. Women are nearly three times as likely as men to experience workplace sexual harassment. Men are most likely to harass women at work, compared to men harassing other men, or women harassing others. Women of color are especially likely to experience it at work. Sexual harassment causes negative impacts on health and well-being. Women experience disproportionate negative impacts to their well-being compared to men’s because of harassment. Read more on the impacts of sexual harassment for health and well-being below! For resources about workplace harassment more broadly, listen to our podcast episode on the topic.
Sexual Harassment Decreases Physical Health
Sexual harassment can cause declines in physical health. Victims of harassment often feel distressed. When this happens, harassment can diminish general health. It can also make it more likely that people will have to use medication to treat illness. Victims of harassment may lose their appetite or find it hard to sleep. Finally, they may experience headaches or stomachaches as a result of harassment.
Taken together, victims of harassment are less likely to feel full of energy or vitality. Instead, they are likely to feel fatigued or unwell. In the workplace, this can be a big problem. When employees are more fatigued, their work performance can decline. Because women are more likely to be sexually harassed, their performance may suffer unfairly compared to their male colleagues.
Sexual Harassment Decreases Mental Well-Being
In addition to physical health issues, victims of harassment can also experience mental health challenges. First, they can experience increased depression and anxiety as a result of experiencing sexual harassment. It can also cause victims to experience post-traumatic stress disorder and/or feelings of loneliness and fear. Finally, it can decrease satisfaction with work and life as well.
Unfortunately, when individuals experience decreases in mental well-being, their work functioning can suffer. Again, because women are more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to men, this may have unfair consequences. It takes a lot of mental energy, and causes a lot of mental anguish, to cope with harassment. So, women may find it harder to stay focused on the job when they are in harassing environments.
What Can You Do About It?
There are ways to combat sexual harassment at work. First, workplaces that have zero tolerance policies for sexual harassment tend to have lower levels of it. So, your policies matter! But, you have to act on the policies to make them really effective. If you have a policy , but there are no actual consequences for people who harass others, it won’t be effective. Hold people accountable! Second, having a higher number of women in positions of power decreases harassment. That’s because people sexually harass others more when there are power differentials between them. When there are fewer men in high-powered positions, the likelihood of harassment decreases.
Finally, you have to make it easy for employees to report harassment. Employees should also feel safe in doing so. If organizations don’t take employees’ claims seriously, or they might face retaliation, they won’t feel comfortable reporting harassment. Overall, organizations should have strong policies and make sure that employees who harass others face consequences. They should also make sure employees feel comfortable reporting. Doing so will help women to have better mental and physical health at work!