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Workplace harassment increased

Workplace harassment increased during the pandemic

The pandemic-imposed transition to remote work has not ended workplace harassment. In fact, there’s some evidence it sparked more of it, while increasing work pressure on most employees, according to a report by non-profit organisation Project Include.

“Harassment and hostility are taking new forms since the pandemic, and workplace expectations and monitoring have ramped up, along with an increase in mental health conditions and anxiety,” the organisation says.

The research analyzed remote workplace experiences in the tech sector since Covid-19. From May 2020 to February 2021, Project Include interviewed a dozen tech workers, experts, and surveyed over 3,000 respondents across 48 countries, 50 industries, and 8 work levels.

The report found that more than a quarter of respondents said they experienced gender-based harassment more often or much more often since Covid-19 and almost all (98%) of those respondents self-identified as women, or as genderqueer or nonbinary people.

More specifically, 26% of respondents said they experienced an increase in gender-based harassment at work during the pandemic, 10% experienced an increase in harassment related to their race or ethnicity, and 14% experienced an increase in harassment based on their age. Slightly more respondents experienced increased levels of hostility (30%, 13% and 15%, respectively).

Groups that experienced harassment more often

The report found that increased gender harassment was experienced more often by people from specific marginalized groups.

“We found increased anxiety in workers who experienced harassment, hostility and higher work expectations, an increase in harassment for women and nonbinary people, Asian, Black, and Latinx people, transgender people, and especially people with more than one of these identities, work and tool overload, and inconsistent, poorly created or non existent remote work communication practices,” Project Include says.

People who experienced an increase in gender-based harassment were:

  • 39% Asian women and/or nonbinary people
  • 25% Black women and/or nonbinary people
  • 38% of Latinx women and/or nonbinary people
  • 35% of Multi-racial women and/or nonbinary people
  • 37% of White women and/or nonbinary people
  • 1 of 3 Indigenous woman and 4 of 8 Middle Eastern women

Transgender respondents were almost twice as likely to have experienced increased gender harassment (42%) than cisgender respondents (25%), with transgender male and nonbinary/male employees (50%) even more likely.

The workers who were most likely to experience an increase in age harassment and age hostility since Covid-19 were age 50 and above (23%) in both, compared to 15% and 14% respectively on average for all workers.

Harassment over chat, email and video meetings

Significantly more respondents experienced harassment over chat (45%), email (41%) or video meetings (41%) than productivity (25%) tools, though no specific company’s tool was listed more than others. Respondents noted that individual harassers would follow them across online spaces to where they were; they were often harassed in 1:1 and other less public situations.

Work pressure on employees has increased

At the same time, whether by design or inadvertently, companies have increased work pressure on their employees since Covid-19. According to the survey, employees are being hurt by increased work expectations, poor communication practices, and a focus on activity over productivity.

People are working longer hours, with 64% saying their work hours have increased since Covid-19. Many felt increased pressure to be online, even outside of working hours, and to be available for their managers.

More than 10% of respondents said managers were checking on them daily, with almost 5% being checked on two or more times a day and nearly 1% five or more times a day. 53% felt more pressure to get online or post online for work as quickly as possible, while more than a third of people (37%) said their managers expected them to be available on demand.

Leaders need to build a more effective and healthier team and culture

Project Include suggests that leaders first need to understand that there is a systemic problem in the tech sector; “that tech has been built on a foundation of inequity and exclusion that will require changes in leadership to make it more diverse at its highest levels.”

“Company leaders need to actively counteract systemic problems in all our communications and processes to build a more effective and healthier team and culture.”

The organisation calls on leaders to make mental health a top consideration in all decisions, processes, funding, and planning, and suggests that companies should proactively address mental health and offer all workers support and resources instead of placing the burden on employees to work on their mental health on their own. 

Leadership teams need to focus on what people actually need to be able to do their best work and need to realize that an employee is more effective when well-rested and trusted. In addition, they need to model these changes themselves, showing they are experiencing the same anxieties and challenges and are taking time to rest and recover, Project Include says.

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