Human Resources News & Insights

Sexual harassment: The damage is wider than you think

Everyone knows sexual harassment harms its  direct victims. But new research shows harassment — especially when it goes unpunished — can have a damaging ripple effect on all company employees, male and female.

That’s the gist of a new study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology and written up on the Psycholawlogy blog.

The researchers, aware of the myriad studies done on how harassment affects it victims, wanted to explore its effects on bystanders.

What they found surprised them: People who observe or perceive harassment directed at other staffers experience many of the same effects as harassment victims.

That includes lower psychological well-being, lower physical well-being, job burnout and increased thoughts about quitting.

Worse, employees think worse of their companies for failing to take action to stop the perceived harassment.

And though harassment most often involves male perpetrators and female victims, the negative effects found in the study apply to both men and women.

What to do

The researchers included a list of things companies can do to protect themselves and create a workplace free from harassment:

  • Integrate a careful training and selection process for managers
  • Encourage workers to report hostile workplace interactions
  • Communicate to employees how and to whom they can report about harassment
  • Offer protection against retaliation for staff who report harassment, and
  • Set up support and counseling programs for workers who experience or witness harassment or hostile behavior.
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