YOUNG WORKER’S CHALLENGE #8: BULLYING AND HARASSMENT
There’s no concept I hate more than ‘banter’.
For me, ‘banter’ represents the go-to excuse for someone who has just been told that their comments or ‘good humoured’ teasing have upset or offended someone. Rather than taking a step back to reflect on their actions – and those who genuinely intended a joke usually do – they become annoyed, and blame the other person for hearing it ‘wrong’, not being able to “take a compliment” or understand that it’s “just a bit of banter”. The comments of new President-elect of the USA Donald Trump is just a recent example.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace are sometimes dismissed as ‘banter’ in an attempt to discredit the victim and make the situation seem less serious. However, both bullying and harassment can and do have very serious negative effects on employees.
Bullying includes offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress.
A TUC survey in 2015 found that nearly half (46%) of people who had experienced bullying say that it has an adverse impact on their performance at work. The same amount of people believe it has a negative effect on their mental health. More than a quarter (28%) say it has a detrimental effect on them physically, and around one in five (22%) have to take time off work as a result of being bullied.
Bullying and harassment are in fact considered hazards at work, due to these severe impacts. It is therefore something that employers should actively try to prevent. Concern over this hazard has been creeping up for some years, and now almost half (48%) of union safety representatives name it as one of their top five workplace hazards.
Harassment includes unwanted conduct based on someone’s gender, race, disability, faith, sexual orientation or trans status which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
Young workers can be particularly vulnerable to bullying and harassment. They can sometimes be seen by other employees as an ‘easy target’. For example, the validity of young workers’ views may be undermined by colleagues on the basis of their age. Young workers are often new to the world of work in general, meaning their perceived lack of knowledge and experience can be exploited.
Young women and sexual harassment
Young women are at particular risk of sexual harassment in the workplace. The TUC research published in the summer that showed nearly two-thirds (63%) of women aged 18–24 had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.
This research found that young women are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace than older workers, and are more likely to experience sexual harassment by phone or email, or whilst travelling to and from work. Sexual harassment is often just seen as a fact of life for young female workers – it is so widespread.
On an anecdotal level, just last weekend I was trying to explain to my friend that the Facebook messages she was receiving from her supervisor constituted harassment. The messages were sent outside of her work hours, were numerous, and reference how beautiful she looked at work. They were ignored by my friend, but nonetheless made her feel uncomfortable about being around her supervisor in work. She did not report him and there is no recognised union in her workplace.
Dealing with instances of bullying and harassment is bread and butter work for unions. It’s important that we appreciate the scale of the problem for young women in particular, and to continue to educate young members about their rights in the workplace through the channels they engage with.
You can find TUC guides on bullying and harassment for employees and union reps on our website.
If you think you are being bullied or harassed and want someone to talk to now, call the Samaritans on 116 123. It is completely free and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Britain’s young core workers are the voices that are missing from our movement. They are aspirational, dynamic and want to be successful. But they are often trapped in low income work without the opportunity to progress or achieve what they want.