One in five people have suffered workplace harassment, says ILO

(Credit: Keystone/Heline Vanbeselaere/Science photo library)

The UN agency says organisations and companies need better policies and measures in place to encourage people to report workplace abuse and prevent it from happening.

More than one in five people in employment have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Monday, with youth and migrant workers most affected.

What the findings show

The UN agency’s joint global survey showed psychological harassment or violence was the most prevalent, with 17.9 per cent of men and women saying they had experienced this at work. 

Around 8.5 per cent of people said they had faced physical abuse, with more men than women experiencing this, while 6.3 per cent said they had been victims of sexual violence and harassment.

Women, and especially young women, are particularly exposed to this type of violence. The survey also found that migrant workers were twice as likely to report sexual violence than non-migrant workers. 

The Americas was cited as the region with the highest prevalence of overall violence and harassment at work, followed by Africa but the problem is widespread in countries across the world. 

Workers stay silent on harassment

The report found that only half of victims worldwide came forward and reported their experiences to someone else – often only after they had suffered more than one type of violence and harassment. 

The most common reason they gave was that they considered it to be “a waste of time” or they worried about their reputation. 

“These results definitely confirm that violence and harassment at work is a taboo issue,”  Manuela Tomei, ILO assistant director-general for governance, rights and dialogue, told a press briefing in Geneva, noting that this also made it very difficult to measure and act upon.

“In many instances, there are no adequate policies and preventive remediation systems in place, and when they are in place they are distrusted,” she added.

Why it matters

Nearly 75,000 people employed across 121 territories around the world were interviewed for the study, conducted by research-focused charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and analytics company Gallup, in what the authors described as the first global study of its kind. 

“It's clear that there is a great deal of work to be done in terms of statistical measurement, and not only to free the world of work and workplaces from violence and harassment,” Tomei said. 

She added that the findings would be used to inform the ILO’s work, including how to come up with more robust and regular data. 

The organisation is working on developing an international standard, to be presented at a conference of ILO statisticians next year, to be able to measure violence and harassment at work.