Study Finds

Workplace Sexual Harassment A ‘Chronic Problem,’ Researcher Says

WASHINGTON — Both men and women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace are left with lasting psychological harm, new research shows.

Researchers at the American Psychological Association (APA) recently published a report in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, in which some of the consequences of harassment, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and diminished happiness, are exposed.

Both men and women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace are left with lasting psychological harm, new research shows.

While women report sexual harassment more than men, “studies indicate that men may be at a higher risk of mental health issues and depression,” notes Dr. Antonio E. Puente, president of the APA, in a press release, who calls such behavior a “chronic problem” in workplaces.

The researchers add that men serving in the military are ten times as likely to be harassed as average civilians, yet less than 20 percent of military victims report their abuse. This phenomenon may serve as a microcosm of American society, they suggest.

Frequent harassers included not only superiors and supervisors, but coworkers, subordinates, customers, and clients, the researchers found.

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Puente adds that “harassers tend to lack a social conscience and engage in manipulative, immature, irresponsible and exploitative behaviors.”

In terms of conditions that could lead to a toxic working environment, the researchers highlighted companies in which men comprised the majority of employees, supervisors were predominantly male, and there was a sense that complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Previous research has shown that the stronger an organization’s hierarchy is, the more likely that sexual harassers will come out of the woodwork.

“Psychology can help, in the form of sexual harassment training, but it only works if it is part of a comprehensive, committed effort to combat the problem,” Puente says of potential solutions to the issue. “Most research points to sanctions as the primary way that organizations can be less tolerant of harassment.”

“Organizations need to be proactive in establishing policies prohibiting sexual harassment, raising employee awareness, establishing reporting procedures and educating employees about these policies,” Puente concludes. “More research is needed to identify the antecedents to harassment that will help employees and managers identify and respond appropriately.”

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