38% of workers still experience harassment remotely—here's what employers can do about it

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Since the coronavirus pandemic started almost two years ago, workplaces have had to make drastic changes and more conscious efforts to improve employee wellbeing. However, harassment at work remains a major issue and remote workplace harassment, specifically, has become an increasingly urgent problem, according to recent research from AllVoices.

Although the shift in workplace dynamics and embrace of remote work has had its benefits, according to AllVoices' "The State Of Workplace Harassment" report, 38% of employees still experienced harassment remotely, through email, video conferencing, chat apps or by phone. Additionally, 24% believe harassment continues or gets worse through remote work channels.

But what does this look like for different demographics, and how can employers fix it? Here's what the research and experts say.

Workplace harassment affects people differently

According to the report, types of harassment people face in the workplace vary among gender, race, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomic status. AllVoices, which surveyed 822 full-time American workers, found that female respondents had experienced sexual harassment (38.8%) and discriminatory harassment/bias (36.4%) more than their male counterparts. Entry level respondents were more likely to experience physical harassment and discrimination (55.8%), while workers over age 45 experienced psychological harassment more (38%).

When it comes to Black/POC and white employees, there are some "key differences" in how they experience and handle workplace harassment, according to AllVoices founder and CEO, Claire Schmidt.

"White respondents were 10 percentage points more likely to say that their workplace takes action when harassment occurs compared to employees who identified as BIPOC," Schmidt tells CNBC Make It. "BIPOC employees were 9 percentage points more likely to say that harassment continued or got worse while working remotely. They were also 8 percentage points less likely to report harassment than white employees."

Schmidt says that, based on the report, 39% of Black employees have experienced personal harassment in the remote workplace, and 36.1% have experienced racism.

How managers should respond

According to the report, unsolved harassment issues can be detrimental to businesses, as 34% of survey respondents say they left their jobs because of it. According to SHRM, the expense to replace an employee can cost upwards of nine months' worth of that employee's salary.

"Harassment can negatively impact someone's daily workplace experience, from their morale to feeling safe both physically and psychologically to loss of trust in their organization if the issue goes unresolved," Schmidt says.

Psychological safety plays a big role in employee well-being in the workplace, according to AllVoices. Over half (52%) of employees report not feeling psychologically safe.

The study suggests that employers implement an anonymous harassment reporting platform so workers can report on any workplace harassment without dealing with any repercussions. According to the report, 85% of workers are more likely to report harassment if they have an anonymous channel. Additionally, respondents believe that they and their coworkers would be more encouraged to report with an anonymous reporting tool or platform.

"Employers have to go beyond just the mandatory annual harassment training," Schmidt says. "They also need to be more transparent about the disciplinary actions that will be taken against the perpetrator should harassment occur. And finally, they need to be responsive and thorough in investigating incidents that occur."

Schmidt also highlights how the outcomes of proactive workplaces and their counterparts will differ.

"Companies who make these changes will likely see increased retention, which is more important than ever during the Great Resignation," she says. "Companies who do not take proactive action to address harassment, both those with remote employees and those whose employees are in-person, will see a toxic culture fester, will lose employees more rapidly to other companies, and due to talent attrition, lack of engagement and productivity, and lack of foundational safety, will find it difficult to compete from a business perspective."

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