The evidence of sexual harassment in the workplace is overwhelming. This survey  revealed that a quarter of American women have been harassed by men who had influence over their work situation. And the situation isn’t any better in Britain. A BBC survey conducted in October 2017 shows that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or place of study.

An emerging evidence shows that sexual harassment against men in the workplace is on the rise. One recent long-term study found that 37% of men reported experiencing some level of sexual harassment.

Thankfully, the #MeToo and Time’s up movements are raising awareness and giving a needed push for real change in the way sexual harassment is handled. But even though the amount of workplace harassment taking place is well documented, there is very little discussion about the economic impact of sexual harassment on victims.


What happens next? How harassment affects employee performance

Sexual harassment has a negative impact on society at every level, including economic. But most of the attention seems to be on the cost to companies. One example is the US government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The EEOC found that since 2010 employers have paid a total of $699 million to employees claiming that they were harassed on the basis of sex, race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color and religion. Thing is, the real costs that companies pay to combat or settle sexual harassment cases are difficult to calculate. Part of the reason for this is that companies often prefer to settle out of court.

But the connection between sexual harassment and individual workplace performance is just as important to know about. One well-known study found that a typical Fortune 500 company lost over $14 million a year because of absenteeism, increased health-care costs, poor morale, low productivity and staff turnover resulting from sexual harassment. But this study was an exception, and exact numbers about how sexual harassment affects a person’s ability to function at work are hard to find.

One reason for this lack of information about the hidden costs of sexual harassment is that it’s an under-reported problem. Another issue that’s preventing greater transparency is that some companies enforce a code of silence through non-disclosure agreements.


Companies: let your people’s voices be heard

An important way to combat under-reporting is to give people the ability to confidentially raise concerns if they feel that they have suffered from harassment at work. And once a complaint or concern has been voiced, employers must then take appropriate action quickly. First, an investigation should be launched into the allegations. Then, where necessary, the people found to have sexually harassed their colleagues must be held to account. A company’s commitment to combating sexual harassment should be clearly defined, through a grievance policy, equal opportunities policy, dignity at work policy, anti-harassment policy, or any other framework.


Meet Your Voice

Fortunately, technological advances are making it possible for companies to empower their people to speak out against sexual harassment. Recently, bob unveiled Your Voice, a service that provides a safe, secure way to report misconduct in the workplace.

Your Voice takes the uncertainty away. Employees click on an anonymous reporting button that directs them to an encrypted service. No data from this button is saved or stored anywhere. Through this service, employees can ask questions, report incidents, and give an email address for replies. This email address is confidential and is scrambled by the service to ensure complete anonymity.

Then, the complaint is received by the company representative in charge, via an email with an encrypted password-protected PDF. This begins a dialogue with the employee, where each correspondence is password protected to prevent any other employee viewing the emails.


Caring culture: how HR can combat sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace poisons everything. The entire workplace culture becomes infected. If unchecked, sexual harassment, or any kind of workplace bullying, ultimately affects a company’s retention rates, and ability to attract the best and brightest people. Sometimes, victims are reluctant to submit complaints because they’re worried about the consequences. Our primary mission in HR is to create a culture that ensures that these cases are handled, with sensitively and effectively. We must offer our people channels to ask anonymously and complain if necessary. The Your Voice service is a big step in the right direction.

Only if employers are sensitive to the real difficulties that employees face when they want to talk about sexual harassment will the problem be fully addressed. Today more than ever companies can put into place solutions that aim to prevent sexual harassment. This kind of proactive approach by companies will help give back to victims of sexual harassment the most important thing they lost: their safety.

Dana Goren

from Dana Goren

Dana is the Chief Customer Success Officer at bob. She brings over 20 years of experience in large global hi-tech organizations as a human resources manager. She has business partnership experience with senior executives and is recognized for her success in leading organizational development in global processes with a strong multi-culture mindset.