By Christophe Vogt
Geneva, Switzerland—More than one in five people in employment worldwide have experienced some form of workplace harassment or violence, according to a survey released by the United Nations on Monday.
“Violence and harassment at work is a widespread phenomenon around the world,” the UN’s International Labour Organization said following the ILO’s joint study with the safety charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation and pollsters Gallup.
The survey was a first attempt to produce a global overview of the magnitude and frequency of the problem and the barriers that prevent people from talking about it.
It found that 22.8 percent—which would amount to 743 million people in employment—have experienced “at least one form of violence and harassment at work during their working life”, according to data collected last year.
Nearly a third of victims said they had been subjected to more than one form of violence and harassment, and 6.3 percent had experienced it in all three forms—physical, psychological and sexual—during their working life.
The survey found that fewer than 55 percent of people who experienced it in the past five years had disclosed it to someone else.
There were several barriers preventing people from coming forward, with “waste of time” and “fear for their reputation” being the most common.
“Violence and harassment at work is a taboo issue,” said Manuela Tomei, the ILO’s assistant director-general for governance, rights, dialogue, told a press conference.
“In many instances, there are no adequate policies and preventive systems in place, and when they are in place they are distrusted,” she concluded.
Perceptions of violence
The survey results were based on interviews with 74,364 workers across 121 countries.
It was mainly conducted by telephone and the questions were formulated so they could be understood by as many people as possible.
In China, where government permission was needed, some questions could not be asked; elsewhere, authorities had asked that they be adapted.
The study found that the perception of what constitutes violence or harassment is not the same around the world: in some places, pushing someone could be seen as rude behavior and nothing more.
Psychological violence and harassment at work were found to be the most common, with 17.9 percent, or 583 million people experiencing it in their working life.
The survey found that 8.5 percent —which would amount to 277 million people—had experienced physical violence and harassment.
While women are more likely to have suffered psychological violence, men are more often the victims of physical violence, the study found.
Violence and harassment of a sexual nature have affected 6.3 percent—approximately one person in every 15 in employment—with women “particularly exposed”, the ILO said.
Of the three forms of violence and harassment, it has the biggest gender gap: more than eight percent of women are victims, compared to five percent among men.
The relatively low figures may reflect that respondents might “feel shame and guilt because they may somehow believe that their behavior or conduct may have led another person to disrespect them,” said Tomei.
The survey found that violence and harassment at work could be recurrent and persistent: more than three in five victims said it had happened to them multiple times.