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Study reveals slight decline in workplace harassment

(Canadian OH&S News) -- Research from the Queen’s School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario,  has concluded that harassment in Canadian workplaces has decreased by a small — but significant —...


(Canadian OH&S News) — Research from the Queen’s School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario,  has concluded that harassment in Canadian workplaces has decreased by a small — but significant — amount since 2012.

The faculty’s new study, in which a Leger Marketing poll questioned a sample of 1,501 Canadian workers from April 21 to 24, found that 23 per cent of respondents had personally experienced some form of workplace harassment at some time in their lives, while about one-quarter of the sample had witnessed co-workers harassing others. These numbers were down from 28 and 33 per cent respectively, from a similar poll conducted in 2012.

Study lead Dr. Jana Raver, associate professor at the Queen’s School of Business, theorized that an increased public interest in the topic of harassment — from journalistic coverage to government legislation — had likely led to the decline.

“A lot more people are talking about it. A lot more people are aware of the issues,” Dr. Raver said. “People are realizing that mistreatment [in] all of its forms is really not acceptable in the workplace, and it’s probably in large part due to the increased communications, more publicly.”

Four per cent of survey respondents claimed that they were currently experiencing harassment in the workplace. This result was consistent with that of the 2012 study.

The survey also noted variations in the responses from male and female workers. While 31 per cent of female respondents had experienced or were currently experiencing workplace harassment, as opposed to 22 per cent of males, about three out of ten men said they had witnessed harassment, while only two in ten women had been witnesses.

“Men are more likely to see what’s happening,” said Dr. Raver. “That also puts men into a potentially powerful position, to be able to be bystanders who could say something and actually help the situation if they wanted to.”

While the percentage of workers who reported male harassers had declined from 50 to 42 per cent since 2012, the percentage of those reporting female harassers had remained steady (23 per cent) and the rate of respondents reporting harassment by both genders had risen from 27 to 35 per cent. The study also found that 29 per cent of university-educated respondents reported current or past experiences of workplace harassment, as opposed to 23 per cent of those who had a high school education or less.

The poll defined harassment according to terminology from Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, which states: “Workplace harassment involves upsetting comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”

Dr. Raver conceded that this was a very broad definition, one that could encompass bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment and hostile nonverbal communication, among other actions. “But it’s quite similar to the language that’s appearing across provinces with regard to personal harassment or workplace harassment,” she noted.

Despite the declining numbers, Dr. Raver stressed, workplace harassment remains a problem in Canada. She suggested that employers could tackle the problem through establishing policies with education and clear messages. “Actually outline a code of conduct,” she said. “Do some training. Let people understand what this looks like and where people cross the line.

“One of the best predictors of whether or not you’re going to have high versus low levels of harassment is actually whether or not your supervisor takes it seriously,” she said. “So that leadership training, leadership enforcement part is really important as well.”

Copyright (c) 2014 The Canadian Press