Sexual Harassment and mental health in the work place

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More than 53% of UK women have been Sexually Assaulted at Work

The recent media coverage of the serious allegations of sexual assault raised against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has catapulted the issue of sexual harassment into the limelight. Both men and women alike have turned to social media to share their own experiences of being sexually harassed, using the hashtag “me too” to demonstrate the true extent of the problem.

A recent poll of 2031 British adults, for BBC Radio 5 Live, has shockingly revealed that a half of British women and a fifth of British men have been sexually harassed in a place of work or study. The sexual harassment of those asked ranged from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults.

This survey followed research published by the TUC last year which also suggested that more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work and that most had not reported this.

The BBC survey found that a quarter of those asked had encountered harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or “banter” and almost one in seven had suffered inappropriate touching. Astonishingly of those had been harassed in the 5 live survey, one in ten had been sexually assaulted.

Staggeringly 63% of the women who had been harassed said that they had not report the matter to anyone and a higher 79% of male victims kept the information to themselves. Reasons given for this include fear it would affect their relationships at work or career prospects as well as feeling of embarrassment and the fear of not being taken seriously.

The survey suggests that more women (30%) than men (12%) were targeted by a boss or someone with direct authority over them. Further that one in ten women who had experienced harassment said it led to them leaving their job or place of study.

Female politicians are amongst the high profile names that have spoken out on the issue of both sexual assault and harassment in a bid to encourage others to do the same.

Labour MP Jess Phillips reported to the London Evening Standard that when she was in her 20’s, before becoming an MP she woke up at a party to find her boss “undoing my belt and trying to get into my trousers”. Ms Phillips describes being “paralysed by fear” at the experience but that she was back at work the following day.

In addition to this Labour’s Mary Creagh and Conservatives Theresa Villiers and Anne Jenkin have also spoken of having been assaulted or subjected to unwanted advances both in and out of the workplace.

Manuela Barreto, Professor of social and organisational psychology at the University of Exeter however has told the BBC that cases exposed in the media such as this “facilitates understanding and therefore detection of what qualifies as sexual harassment”. She goes on to state “It gives the message that it’s a serious matter and that there are many out there who support the perception that this is a problem”.

The founder of the original “me too” campaign, activist Tarana Burke has told 5 Live that she feels that momentum has now gathered behind genuine change in the way sexual harassment is handled.

This forms part of a wider problem where mental health is said to be viewed as a taboo subject in many workplaces.

300,000 people leave jobs due to mental health

Government bodies, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health have commissioned the ‘Thriving at Work’ report, published today. The report suggests that as many as 300,000 people with long term mental health problems have to leave their jobs each year and further that poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn each year.Prime Minister Theresa May has commented that the recent report shows “we need to take action” initially requesting that NHS England and the Civil Service, who together employ two million people, accept and implement the report’s recommendations.Whilst some employers are praised within the report Mr Paul Farmer, co-author of the report and chief executive of the mental health charity Mind has said “Opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure that employees who may be struggling get the support they need.In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support”.

There are 40 recommendations within the report about how employers and the government can better support employees to remain at work. In addition to this companies are also being encouraged to include a section on employee mental health in their annual reports. The government has now said that it is considering the legislative changes suggested.

If you, or anybody you know has suffered from a prolonged mental illness due to stress at work or any work related incident including harassment, please contact us today on  0113 200 9779 or fill out our quick enquiry form. You can also visit the Stress at work section on our website for information about bullying at work, being overworked as well as information about mental health issues at work.

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