Sexual harassment in the workplace
The spring and summer of 2022 has brought many of us the opportunity to physically spend more time in our companies again. Even if only in part, because time and work models have changed permanently and home office options will continue to be maintained. But at least team meetings, employee events, training sessions, meetings with colleagues, etc. can once again take place in presence. This creates euphoria: After two years of virtual isolation, we can finally see each other again, meet and establish closer contacts than digital formats make possible. Company celebrations, parties with colleagues and lunches together are now being made up for.
But the pandemic and the restrictions also changed people's behavior. A large part of the population was forced to endure a long period of time in a restricted space and with limited personal and social contacts. While many employers were initially worried about families because of the double burden of home office and homeschooling, companies now tell us that it is mainly younger single colleagues who (without partnerships/families) have become downright "lonely" and for whom the last few years have left clear mental traces.
A changed society
We already reported a few weeks ago that, as a possible consequence of the pandemic, the propensity for violence has increased among some people. Together with VfL Bochum, we had collected and analyzed data and facts from around the world and created a forecast. From similar developments at events like the Formula 1 event in Zandvoort last weekend, currently reports the Dutch press.
In addition, a number of companies of different sizes and from different industries are currently telling us about another development that seems so relevant to us that we would like to share it with you here today: There is a cluster of an encroaching behavior vis-à-vis Colleague:inside.
Boundaries that seemed to be widely accepted just a few years ago are now being challenged by some colleagues. exceeded. Thus, we are currently sent to our anonymous Whistleblower & Concerns phone number +49 234 9041836-60 and e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org Increased harassment reported within workforces, both verbal and physical. This starts with insinuating remarks and "jokes" as well as pushy or one-sided or ambiguous comments and extends to unwanted touching of sensitive body parts or open attempts at sexual acts. What they all have in common is that they are unwanted by those affected, perceived as humiliating, and perceived as unilaterally crossing boundaries. A compilation of what is meant by sexual harassment and where the boundary between "flirting" and harassment lies has been compiled by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency compiled in a brochure.
In addition, we have been approached by several companies that perceive similar developments in their workforce and have asked us for Ask for support in the development of prevention measures.
Correctly perceive risks at all levels
These are often incidents that can be categorized as the famous "step too far" and - very problematic for those affected - are not perceived as such by colleagues, but also trusted persons. The reporting persons often have the feeling that they are not taken seriously or that they are put off with the classic excuses. ("was just kidding", "is just the joy because we have not seen each other for two years".). Even colleagues who are approached with trust often do not seem to react with the necessary empathy ("oh, he/she is just over-euphoric to be back here", "he/she doesn't mean that personally, he/she just needs to catch up, he/she does the same to others".). The victims often have the feeling that sexual harassment is played down by their colleagues as an attempt at flirting, or that there is a classic reversal of blame ("you have misunderstood something", "then don't smile at him/her so often".).
Those affected report that they do not want to contact anyone in the company directly, partly because internal contact points are not considered to be far enough away from their colleagues. Likewise, some of those affected experience that information is not treated confidentially and finds its way into the company's grapevine. Those affected also report that, out of fear of gossip and damage to reputation Violations are concealed or, in the worst case, endured.
In other words, the euphoria of the workforce to be able to physically return to the social structure of the company after a long period of time and to be able to have fun and fool around with colleagues "loosely, easily and freed from isolation" seems to be countered by the danger that important (verbal as well as physical) distances and rules of decorum are no longer observed.
Damage not only for those affected, but also for companies
Those affected tell us of the impression that colleagues have forgotten how to deal with the situation appropriately, partly due to the isolation of the last two years, and now have to be sensitized again.
Such (collective) changes and social trends, which can be triggered, for example, as a result of extreme influences such as a pandemic and the lack of social interaction with other people, must therefore be given greater attention in risk management - also and especially in companies. After all, the consequences of such grievances are not limited to the personal level of those affected (anger, embarrassment, fear, feelings of powerlessness or inferiority, mistrust, depression, inability to work, etc.), but also harbor risks for the companies themselves:
- Failures of the employees:inside
- Loss of workforce
- Unrest, mistrust and loss of trust within the workforce and from workforce to management
- Negative effects on the working atmosphere
- Damage to reputation / loss of reputation on the market
- Possible claims for damages against the company
- Labor and criminal consequences for perpetrators and management
In contrast, adequate prevention measures and a responsible approach to sexual harassment in the workplace play an important role in the atmosphere in the company and the positioning of the company as an exemplary employer.
What can and should companies do specifically in the event of sexually assaultive behavior of a verbal or physical nature if they suspect or even detect such behavior in their workforce?
In many companies, bodies such as confidential counsellors or complaints offices have already been set up. These functions are also suitable for settling conflicts between different hierarchies, between employers and employees, or in the event of dissatisfaction with the working methods of colleagues, etc. However, they fail in the case of massive interpersonal incidents because the persons concerned or their tormentors are not involved. However, they fail in the case of massive interpersonal incidents because the persons affected or their tormentors are directly or indirectly connected to the confidants within the company. Distance is missing.
Especially in the current time of the "euphoria of the reunion", in which (correctly!) the employers promote the social exchange of the employees among each other, in order to strengthen the cohesion of the staff as well as the identification with the company, the companies should likewise use instruments, which make it possible for those affected to be able to speak out in anonymous form. Because the closer the workforce gets together, the more distance is needed for problems.
In addition, it should be assumed that, due to the latest geopolitical developments (Ukraine) and the associated threat potential for each individual (inflation, energy shortage, increased private insolvency risk for employees), any behavioral patterns will continue to increase and will not disappear of their own accord.
This is why raising awareness among employees at all levels of the hierarchy is particularly important. This starts with the right attitude on the part of top management and includes training and the dissemination of information to the workforce on what respectful behavior in the company should look like, including a concrete description of the procedure for cases of sexual harassment, behavioral guidelines and sanctions.