Insights on Canadian Society
Harassment in Canadian workplaces

by Darcy Hango and Melissa Moyser

Release date: December 17, 2018

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Today, Insights on Canadian Society is releasing a study in partnership with Statistics Canada's Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics. This study uses data from the General Social Survey on Canadians at Work and Home.

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Overview of the study

Harassment in the workplace can come in a variety of forms, with the potential for far-reaching effects on the health and well-being of workers, as well as on their job tenure, job stability and job satisfaction. Using data from 2016 General Social Survey on Canadians at Work and Home (GSS), this study focuses on workplace harassment experienced by respondents at some point in the past year. The target population includes those who were aged 15 to 64 and worked for pay in the past year.

  • Overall, 19% of women and 13% of men reported that they had experienced harassment in their workplace in the past year. Workplace harassment includes verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats to persons, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment.
  • The most common type of workplace harassment was verbal abuse—13% of women and 10% of men reported having experienced it in the past year. The next most common type was humiliating behaviour—6% of women and 5% of men reported having experienced it, while about 3% of each said they had experienced threats.
  • Women were more likely to report sexual harassment in their workplace (4%) than men (less than 1%). Among women who reported sexual harassment, more than half were targeted by clients or customers.
  • Workers in health occupations are the most likely to report having been harassed on the job in the past year. The differences between those in health and other occupations are more pronounced for women than men.
  • About 47% of men and 34% of women who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager had a weak sense of belonging to their current organization, compared with 16% of both women and men who said they had not been harassed at work in the past year.

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Introduction

Workplace harassment refers to objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comments, or actions by an individual, at any event or location related to work, which can reasonably be expected to offend, intimidate, humiliate or degrade. Harassment in the workplace comes in a variety of forms, as it can range from interpersonal mistreatment,Note such as disrespect, condescension and degradation (often referred to as workplace incivilityNote ), to more physical forms of harassment such as physical assault (which may also be referred to as workplace violence), sexual assault, bullying or the threat of harm.Note

Harassment in the workplace has far-reaching effects on the health and well-being of workers, as well as on their job tenure, job stability and job satisfaction. It may also have an impact on the overall economy resulting from costs associated with absenteeism, lost productivity and job turnoverNote .

This paper uses data from the 2016 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians at Work and Home to examine experiences of workplace harassment in the past year among Canadians aged 15 to 64 who worked for pay during the past 12 months (see the Data sources, methods and definitions section).Note In the GSS, workplace harassment refers to experiences of verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment that are reported by Canadians.Note

In the first half of the paper, statistical information about the prevalence of workplace harassment, as well as information on the type and source of harassment, is presented. It also identifies personal and workplace characteristics that increase the likelihood of experiencing workplace harassment.

The second part of the paper explores the relationship between workplace harassment and various indicators of personal well-being (such as mental health and stress) and workplace well-being (such as job satisfaction and sense of belonging to the organization).

Women report higher levels of workplace harassment than men

In the 2016 GSS, respondents can report if they suffered from verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment in the workplace over the past 12 months. Even though this definition can differ from past studies of workplace harassment, the five dimensions of workplace harassment examined in the GSS align relatively well with other harassment constructs observed in the literature.Note

On the basis of this definition, 19% of women reported that they had experienced harassment in their workplace in the past year, while 13% of men reported it. The most common type of workplace harassment was verbal abuse, with 13% of women and 10% of men reporting having experienced it in the past year (Chart 1). The next most common type was humiliating behaviour, which was reported by 6% of women and 5% of men, while 3% of each had experienced threats. Physical violence in the workplace was experienced by significantly more women than men, at 3% versus 1.5%. Sexual harassment or unwanted sexual attention was more prevalent among women (4%) than men (less than 1%).

Chart 1 Proportion of men and women who reported workplace harassment in the past 12 months, by type, 2016

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Type (appearing as row headers), Total, Men and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type Total Men Women
percent
Any 15.9 13.2 18.7Note *
Verbal abuse 11.1 9.7 12.5Note *
Humiliating behaviour 5.3 4.8 5.8
Threats to person 2.8 2.8 2.8
Physical violence 2.2 1.5 3.1Note *
Unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment 2.2 0.7 3.8Note *

Source of workplace harassment differs for men and women

In the 2016 GSS, six different perpetrators are listed as potentially responsible for harassment in the workplace in the past year: supervisor or manager, colleague or peer, employee, client or customer, board member or shareholder, and other sources. The source of the harassment, or the relationship between the harasser and the person being harassed, matters.Note For instance, it may be worse for a worker if they are being harassed by a person in a position of authority over them.Note Note

Among people who said they were harassed in the past year at work, 53% of women said a client or customer was responsible for the harassment, compared with 42% of men (Chart 2). For men, the next most common source of harassment in the workplace was their supervisor or manager, at 39%, while 32% of women said the same.Note It was also relatively common for both men and women to have been harassed by a colleague or peer, at 35% for men and 34% for women, while it was less common to have been harassed by an employee, or a board member or shareholder.

Chart 2 Source of harassment among those who reported workplace harassment in the past 12 months, 2016

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Source (appearing as row headers), Total, Men and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Source Total Men Women
percent
Client or customer 48.4 42.4 52.9Note *
Supervisor or manager 34.9 39.3 31.6Note *
Colleague or peer 34.3 35.2 33.6
Employee 5.6 6.1 5.2
Board member or shareholder 1.9 Note F: too unreliable to be published 1.6
Other 11.9 10.2 13.1

Gender differences in non-sexual workplace harassment driven by occupation type

In order to better understand the pertinent characteristics of those who reported being harassed at work in the past year, two separate subsamples are used. The first subsample includes all types of harassment listed in Chart 1, while the second subsample excludes those who said they had experienced sexual harassment. By examining characteristics in this way, it is possible to somewhat isolate the effects of sexual harassment, which are described later in the paper.Note

The factors examined in this section are separated into (a) sociodemographic factors, including gender, age, highest level of education, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, province of residence, personal income, marital status, presence of young children in the home, and physical mobility limitation; and (b) workplace characteristics, including workplace size (number of workers), terms of employment (which takes regular work hours into account), union status, and occupational group.Note

In the discussion that follows, results are expressed as predicted probabilities, which can be interpreted as the likelihood that people belonging to a certain group will experience workplace harassment when other factors are taken into account. This can be done with a logistic regression model, with workplace harassment as a dependent variable, and the groups of variables listed above as independent variables.

According to the results, women reported higher rates of workplace harassment than men. When all types of harassment—including unwanted sexual attention—are considered, women reported a higher probability (18%) than men (14%) of being harassed at work in the past year (Table 1). These rates are adjusted for numerous sociodemographic variables (Model 1). The difference between women and men remains significant when workplace factors (Model 2) are factored in. In contrast, in the sample that excludes sexual harassment, there is a 2 percentage point gap separating women and men (15% versus 13%)—a gap that disappears once workplace characteristics (including occupations) are taken into account (Model 2). In other words, the gender gap in reported workplace harassment disappears when the occupational group is factored in, but only if sexual harassment is not included in the definition of harassment. In cases where sexual harassment is included in the overall harassment indicator, the gender gap persists.


Table 1
Predicted probability of reporting workplace harassment in the past 12 months, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Predicted probability of reporting workplace harassment in the past 12 months Workplace harassment, including sexual, Workplace harassment, excluding sexual, Model 1 and Model 2, calculated using predicted probability units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Workplace harassment, including sexual Workplace harassment, excluding sexual
Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2
predicted probability
Sociodemographic characteristics
Gender
Men (ref.) 13.6 14.1 12.9 13.5
Women 18.2Note ** 17.6Note ** 15.1Note * 14.4
Age
15 to 24 (ref.) 13.2 13.7 10.3 10.8
25 to 34 16.6 16.6 14.0 14.1
35 to 44 16.7 16.8 15.0Note * 15.2Note *
45 to 54 17.0 16.8 15.6Note * 15.3Note *
55 to 64 15.5 15.1 14.6 14.0
Highest level of completed education
Less than high school 11.2 11.4 10.1 10.6
High school (ref.) 13.8 14.0 11.9 12.1
Trades 18.9Note * 18.2 16.9Note * 16.2
College, CEGEP or university certificate below bachelor's level 15.5 15.3 13.7 13.7
Bachelor's 17.4Note * 17.5 15.5Note * 15.5
Above bachelor's 20.9Note ** 20.8Note * 17.5Note * 17.0Note *
Visible minority status
Visible minority 12.8Note * 12.6Note ** 11.1Note * 11.0Note *
Not a visible minority (ref.) 16.8 16.9 14.8 14.9
Self-reported Aboriginal identification
Aboriginal 14.3 14.8 9.9Note * 10.1Note *
Non-Aboriginal (ref.) 15.9 15.9 14.1 14.1
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual (ref.) 15.6 15.6 13.8 13.8
Homosexual or bisexual 22.9Note * 22.8Note * 18.6 18.7
Immigrant status
Recent immigrant (less than 10 years) 13.4 14.0 12.6 13.3
Established immigrant (more than 10 years) 14.8 15.0 13.2 13.5
Canadian-born (ref.) 16.2 16.2 14.2 14.1
Personal income
Less than $20,000 16.5 17.1 13.9 14.7
$20,000 to $39,999 (ref.) 17.0 17.6 15.0 15.7
$40,000 to $59,999 16.4 16.2 14.7 14.5
$60,000 to $79,999 15.3 14.7 13.9 13.3
$80,000 to $99,999 16.0 14.8 14.7 13.5
$100,000 to $119,999 15.6 14.9 12.8 12.1
$120,000 or more 10.0Note ** 10.4Note ** 8.7Note ** 9.1Note **
Province of residence
Newfoundland and Labrador 12.7Note * 12.9Note * 10.9Note * 11.1Note *
Prince Edward Island 14.0 14.1 10.6 10.7Note *
Nova Scotia 18.3 18.4 15.0 15.2
New Brunswick 14.9 15.2 13.6 14.0
Quebec 12.7Note ** 12.3Note ** 11.9Note * 11.4Note **
Ontario (ref.) 17.0 17.2 14.8 15.1
Manitoba 19.6 19.3 16.5 16.1
Saskatchewan 18.3 17.8 16.8 16.4
Alberta 17.5 18.0 14.9 15.4
British Columbia 15.7 15.6 13.5 13.5
Marital status
Married 13.8Note ** 13.9Note ** 12.7Note * 12.7Note *
Common law 15.7 15.5 13.8 13.6
Widowed 19.5 18.4 16.6 16.0
Separated 16.7 15.7 13.3 12.4
Divorced 21.2 21.5 17.7 18.0
Single or never-married (ref.) 18.2 18.3 15.8 15.9
Children under 6 living at home
Yes 15.3 14.9 13.0 12.5
No (ref.) 16.0 16.0 14.1 14.2
Presence of a mobility limitation affecting daily activity
Yes 22.5Note * 22.3Note * 20.6Note * 20.5Note *
No (ref.) 15.6 15.7 13.7 13.7
Current workplace characteristics
Workplace size
Small business (1 to 99 employees) Note ...: not applicable 15.1 Note ...: not applicable 13.4
Medium-sized business (100 to 499 employees) Note ...: not applicable 16.8 Note ...: not applicable 14.7
Large business (500 or more employees) (ref.) Note ...: not applicable 17.5 Note ...: not applicable 15.2
Terms of employment
Regular employee (ref.) Note ...: not applicable 16.2 Note ...: not applicable 14.3
Seasonal employee Note ...: not applicable 12.1 Note ...: not applicable 10.0Note *
Term employee Note ...: not applicable 16.9 Note ...: not applicable 14.7
Casual or on-call employee Note ...: not applicable 14.6 Note ...: not applicable 12.8
Union status
Unionized Note ...: not applicable 19.9Note ** Note ...: not applicable 18.0Note **
Not unionized (ref.) Note ...: not applicable 13.9 Note ...: not applicable 12.0
Occupation (NOC 4-digit)
Management Note ...: not applicable 16.7Note * Note ...: not applicable 15.2
Business, finance and administrative Note ...: not applicable 12.4Note ** Note ...: not applicable 11.4Note **
Natural and applied sciences Note ...: not applicable 9.2Note ** Note ...: not applicable 7.3Note **
Health (ref.) Note ...: not applicable 22.8 Note ...: not applicable 20.2
Education, law, social and related Note ...: not applicable 15.3Note ** Note ...: not applicable 14.5Note *
Sales and service Note ...: not applicable 17.8Note * Note ...: not applicable 14.8Note *
Trades and related Note ...: not applicable 16.7 Note ...: not applicable 14.8Note *
Unweighted Sample size 9,203 8,990
Weighted Sample Size 16,248,795 15,888,673

Other significant sociodemographic characteristics of workplace harassment include education, income, visible minority status, marital status and physical mobility limitations. With respect to education, the probability of experiencing harassment was 21% among those who had a bachelor’s degree or higher, a finding that is almost 10 percentage points higher than for those whose highest level of education is a high school diploma. This result is present in both subsamples. In addition, respondents at the highest income level ($120,000 or more) reported a significantly lower risk of workplace harassment in the past year than individuals who earned less than $40,000 after controlling for occupation.

Across all models, visible minority workers said they were less likely to have experienced workplace harassment in the past year. For example, the probability to report harassment was 13% among visible minorities, compared with 17% for non-visible minorities.Note Meanwhile, with respect to marital status, a consistent finding is that married people were less likely to experience workplace harassment than the single or never-married population. Lastly, the likelihood of reporting workplace harassment was 23% among individuals who had a mobility limitation affecting their daily activity—7 percentage points higher than those who did not report a similar mobility limitation.

Health occupations and unionized jobs have the highest rates of workplace harassment

The results in Table 1 show that workplace characteristics are also related to workplace harassment, particularly unionization and type of occupation. Across all workers, with respect to unionization, those who worked in a unionized position were more likely to say they were the victim of harassment in the workplace in the past year.Note Specifically, workers in unionized jobs had a 6 percentage point higher probability (regardless of whether sexual harassment was included or not) than workers in non-unionized jobs (20% versus 14% for all forms of harassment); this finding remains even after adjusting for a wide range of sociodemographic and other workplace characteristics. However, it was found that workers in unionized jobs who had been harassed were more likely to say they had tried to address the harassment than workers in non-unionized jobs. The difference was especially pronounced in instances of reported verbal abuse. For instance, 12% of workers in unionized jobs reported that the verbal abuse had been addressed compared with 6% of workers in non-unionized jobs.

In order to examine the effect of occupation on the experience of workplace harassment in this analysis, the 2016 10-category National Occupational Code (NOC) is used. The 10 categories are combined into 7 categories to accommodate sample size. The following 7 occupational categories are used: management occupations; business, finance and administrative occupations; natural and applied sciences occupations; health occupations; education, law, social and related occupations; sales and service occupations; and trades and related occupations.Note

Workers in health occupations had the highest probability of reporting harassment on the job in the past year at 23%. Relative to workers in health occupations, the probability was significantly lower in most of the other occupational categories, particularly in natural and applied sciences (9%).

It is informative to examine the predicted probabilities of workplace harassment across occupational groups separately for men and women. The results, shown in Table 2, are based on a series of logistic regressions.Note Results show that 27% of women and 21% of men in health occupations indicated that they had been harassed in the workplace in the past year. The difference between health and other occupations is more pronounced for women, even after adjusting for a wide range of factors. Women in health occupations experienced workplace harassment significantly more than women in all other occupations, with the exception of management and sales and service occupations. The finding of a relatively high rate of workplace harassment in health occupations is consistent with past evidence pointing to the same conclusion.Note Note


Table 2
Predicted probability of reporting workplace harassment in past 12 months, by occupation and gender, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Predicted probability of reporting workplace harassment in past 12 months. The information is grouped by Occupation (NOC 4-digit) (appearing as row headers), Total, Men and Women, calculated using predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Occupation (NOC 4-digit) Total Men Women
predicted probabilities
Management 16.7Note * 11.7 23.9
Business, finance and administrative 12.4Note ** 12.8 13.7Note **
Natural and applied sciences 9.2Note ** 5.8Note * 16.5Note *
Health (ref.) 22.8 21.4 26.6
Education, law, social and related 15.3Note ** 14.6 16.9Note **
Sales and service 17.8Note * 14.6 21.1
Trades and related 16.7 14.7 13.8Note **

About 4% of women reported being sexually harassed in the workplace

The Canada Labour Code establishes employees’ rights to employment free of sexual harassment, and requires employers to take positive action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The Canada Labour Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. L-2) defines sexual harassment as “any conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature (a) that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee; or (b) that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.”

In 2016, 4% of Canadian women reported being sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year, compared with less than 1% of men. This section focuses on women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace (the number of men with these experiences is not sufficient to support a more detailed analysis). Although most of the women who reported being sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year were targeted by one perpetrator (74%), just over one-quarter of them were targeted by multiple perpetrators (26%).

While the 2016 GSS does not include information on the sex of perpetrators, it does nevertheless demonstrate that supervisors and managers are less likely to be perpetrators than clients or customers, and colleagues or peers. Among women who were sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year, 15% were targeted by supervisors or managers (Chart 3).Note In comparison, 56% of women who reported that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace were targeted by clients or customers, and 44% were targeted by colleagues or peers. Some research suggests that clients and customers as well as colleagues and peers are more frequent perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace than supervisors or managers because they have more opportunities to interact with potential targets.Note

Chart 3 Source of harassment among women who reported sexual harassment in the workplace in the past 12 months, 2016

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Source (appearing as row headers), All women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Source All women
percent
Client or customer 56.0
Colleague or peer 43.7
Supervisor or manager 15.1
All others 18.2

Certain personal characteristics are associated with greater vulnerability to sexual harassment in the workplace among women. Specifically, young and unmarried women were more likely to report being sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year than older and married women. For example, 7% of women aged 15 to 24 reported that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace, compared with 1% of women aged 55 to 64 (Table 3). Furthermore, 7% of single or never-married women reported having been sexually harassed in the workplace, compared with 2% of married women. While such results suggest that perpetrators are more likely to target young and unmarried women, it may also be that age and marital status are proxies for less seniority at work and poor job quality—factors that may increase the likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace to the extent that they imply low organizational power.Note Note Note In addition, it was found that lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to report being sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year than heterosexual women (11% versus 4%).


Table 3
Proportion of women who reported that they had been sexually harassed at work in past year, by characteristic, 2016 Table summary
This table displays the results of Proportion of women who reported that they had been sexually harassed at work in past year percent (appearing as column headers).
Percent
Total 3.8
Age
15 to 24 (ref.) 7.2
25 to 34 5.6
35 to 44 2.5Note *
45 to 54 2.2Note *
55 to 64 1.2Note *
Self-reported Aboriginal identification
Aboriginal 10.1Note *
Non-Aboriginal (ref.) 3.6
Sexual orientation
Lesbian or bisexual 10.9Note *
Heterosexual (ref.) 3.5
Marital Status
Married 1.6Note *
Common-law 3.4Note E: Use with caution
Widowed Note F: too unreliable to be published
Separated Note F: too unreliable to be published
Divorced 5.5
Single or never-married (ref.) 6.6

No significant differences were found between foreign-born and Canadian-born women, or between visible-minority women and women who were not part of a visible minority group. Aboriginal women, however, were more likely to report such experiences than non-Aboriginal women (10% versus 4%). These results are in line with other research showing that Aboriginal women are generally more vulnerable to sexual violence.Note Furthermore, Aboriginal women also tend to be younger than non-Aboriginal women, and they are overrepresented in lower-level occupational groups that require less skill, training and experience.Note Note

Workplace harassment is associated with adverse effects both in terms of workplace well-being and life away from work

This part of the paper focuses on the relationship between workplace harassment and indicators that tap into both workplace well-being (such as connectedness, stability and risk of turnover) and personal well-being (such as stress and mental health). Since it is not possible to disentangle cause and effect from the measures in this study, it focuses on exploring the association between concepts. In this section, harassment refers to any form of harassment (i.e., sexual or otherwise) reported by survey respondents in the previous 12 months.

The four workplace well-being indicators examined in this study are satisfaction with their current job; level of motivation to perform their best at the current organization;  likelihood of leaving their job in the next 12 months; and sense of belonging to the current organization. Each of these factors can be potential indicators of feelings of connectedness to the current place of work and the risk of looking for new employment in the near future.

The four personal well-being indicators examined in this study are stress in daily life; general health;Note mental health; and hopeful view of the future. Each and every one of these is related to the more general well-being of the respondent not specifically associated with the workplace. However, since well-being, health and work are intertwined,Note it is often difficult to completely disassociate issues at work with those outside the workplace.Note In each case, two sets of results are presented: unadjusted results and adjusted results, which take other factors that may also affect personal and workplace well-being into account.

Each of these factors has a significant relationship with workplace harassment; for the most part, the association appears to be about the same for both men and women.Note That said, workplace harassment has a relatively strong relationship with job dissatisfaction: for example, the proportion of women who said they were dissatisfied with their current job more than tripled from less than 4% for those who had not experienced harassment to 14% for women who had experienced harassment (Table 4a). Similarly, the proportion of men who said they were dissatisfied with their current job was two times higher among those who experienced harassment (14%) than it was among those who had not (5%).


Table 4a
Relationship between past year workplace harassment and select indicators of workplace well-being, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Relationship between past year workplace harassment and select indicators of workplace well-being Men, Women, Experienced workplace harassment and Did not experience workplace harassment, calculated using percent and predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Men Women
Experienced workplace harassment Did not experience workplace harassment Experienced workplace harassment Did not experience workplace harassment
percent
Unadjusted results
Dissatisfied with current job 13.7 4.9Note * 13.6 3.4Note *
Planning on leaving current job in next 12 months 23.6 16.6Note * 22.4 15.3Note *
Low motivation to perform their best at current organization 24.0 9.2Note * 19.5 7.7Note *
Weak sense of belonging to current organization 30.9 16.2Note * 26.7 16.1Note *
   predicted probabilities
Adjusted resultsTable 4a Note 1
Dissatisfied with current job 12.9 5.1Note * 11.9 3.4Note *
Planning on leaving current job in next 12 months 25.0 17.5Note * 19.7 14.7
Low motivation to perform their best at current organization 23.2 9.4Note * 17.7 7.8Note *
Weak sense of belonging to current organization 30.3 16.4Note * 25.6 16.2Note *

Almost as strong for men is having low motivation to perform their best at their current organization: the proportion who reported this increases from 9% if they experienced no workplace harassment in the past 12 months to 24% if they did experience workplace harassment. This relationship holds even after taking a wide range of sociodemographic factors into account. A similar result is found for women: 8% who did not report that they had been harassed said they had low motivation to perform their best, compared with 20% among those who reported that they had been harassed.

Workplace harassment also had a strong association with a lower sense of belonging to men’s and women’s current organizations and it increased their likelihood of saying they planned on leaving their job in the next 12 months, but for women the association disappears once a wide range of work and non-work factors are taken into account.

There is also a link between workplace harassment and personal well-being indicators such as stress, mental health and outlook on life (Table 4b). The largest association for men appears to be with poor mental health: 18% of men who reported experiencing workplace harassment in the past year said they had poor mental health, compared with 6% for men who were not harassed. The increase was also seen among women: 16% of women who were harassed in the workplace in the past year said they had poor mental health, compared with 8% for women who were not harassed. The proportion of those who reported stress was also significantly higher among those who experienced workplace harassment. This association remained even when a wide range of sociodemographic and work-related factors were taken into account.


Table 4b
Relationship between past year workplace harassment and select indicators of personal well-being, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Relationship between past year workplace harassment and select indicators of personal well-being Men, Women, Experienced workplace harassment and Did not experience workplace harassment, calculated using percent and predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Men Women
Experienced workplace harassment Did not experience workplace harassment Experienced workplace harassment Did not experience workplace harassment
percent
Unadjusted results
Life is quite a bit/extremely stressful 30.1 17.7Note * 33.5 21.4Note *
Fair/poor general health 13.5 8.6Note * 12.6 8.3Note *
Fair/poor mental health 18.2 6.2Note * 16.4 7.5Note *
Rarely/never has hopeful view of future 9.8 3.7Note * 3.7 2.1
   predicted probabilities
Adjusted resultsTable 4b Note 1
Life is quite a bit/extremely stressful 31.2 18.5Note * 32.0 20.6Note *
Fair/poor general health 12.7 9.1 11.8 7.9
Fair/poor mental health 17.8 6.5Note * 14.8 7.4Note *
Rarely/never has hopeful view of future 8.2 3.7Note * 3.6 2.3

Being harassed by someone in a position of power is associated with negative perceptions about work

Evidence suggests that being harassed in the workplace by a supervisor or another person in a position of power can potentially have more harmful consequences for victims than being harassed by someone without the power imbalance.Note In the present context, a person in a position of power is defined as either a supervisor or manager. Recall that supervisors or managers were responsible for 39% of workplace harassment for men. For women this proportion was 32%.Note

For the most part, the relationship between workplace indicators and workplace harassment was even stronger when the harassment came from a supervisor or manager (Table 5a). For example, among men who were harassed by a manager or supervisor, 23% reported low levels of job satisfaction, compared with 9% of those who were harassed by someone other than a person in a position of power. In contrast, 5% of men who did not report workplace harassment had low levels of job satisfaction. Women who were harassed by a person in position of power were also significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their job, relative to those who had not been harassed.


Table 5a
Relationship between the source of past year workplace harassment and select indicators of workplace well-being, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Relationship between the source of past year workplace harassment and select indicators of workplace well-being Men, Women, Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power, Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power and Not harassed in the workplace, calculated using percentage and predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Men Women
Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power Not harassed in the workplace Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power Not harassed in the workplace
percent
Unadjusted results
Dissatisfied with current job 23.0 8.6Note * 4.9Note * 21.4 10.2 3.4Note *
Planning on leaving current job in next 12 months 27.9 21.3 16.6Note * 33.3 17.8Note * 15.3Note *
Low motivation to perform their best at current organization 37.0 16.9Note * 9.2Note * 30.0 15.0Note * 7.7Note *
Weak sense of belonging to current organization 47.4 22.0Note * 16.2Note * 33.5 23.8 16.1Note *
   predicted probabilities
Adjusted resultsTable 5a Note 1
Dissatisfied with current job 23.0 7.9Note * 5.2Note * 17.5 8.9 3.4Note *
Planning on leaving current job in next 12 months 31.9 21.5 17.5Note * 28.2 15.6Note * 14.7Note *
Low motivation to perform their best at current organization 38.0 15.9Note * 9.5Note * 28.4 12.8Note * 7.7Note *
Weak sense of belonging to current organization 47.7 21.2Note * 16.5Note * 30.8 22.8 16.1Note *

On a related note, especially strong is the relationship between being harassed by a manager or supervisor and having a weak sense of belonging to the organization. Approximately 16% of both women and men who said they had not been harassed at work in the past year had a weak sense of belonging to their current organization, compared with 47% of men and 34% of women who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager. Also noteworthy is that being harassed by a person in power significantly lowers men’s sense of belonging to their organization compared with being harassed by someone who is not a supervisor or manager. This relationship holds even in models that control for various sociodemographic measures, while for women the difference between the sources of harassment is not significant in unadjusted or adjusted models. Being harassed by a supervisor or manager is also associated with lower employee motivation to perform their best, above and beyond the effect from being harassed by someone who is not a supervisor or manager. The relationship remains even in adjusted models and is present for both men and women.

With respect to non-workplace outcomes, being harassed by a supervisor or manager was also associated with lower self-rated physical and mental health and higher levels of reported stress (Table 5b). However, being harassed by a supervisor or manager showed similar patterns as being harassed by someone who is not a supervisor or manager. In other words, workplace harassment appears to be similarly associated with non-workplace outcomes regardless of the perpetrator. The exception to this was self-rated mental health among men: 25% of men who reported that they had been harassed by a person in a position of power said they had poor mental health, compared with 13% for men who were reported that they had been harassed by someone else. This result is also present for women, but only in unadjusted models.


Table 5b
Relationship between the source of past year workplace harassment and select indicators of personal well-being, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Relationship between the source of past year workplace harassment and select indicators of personal well-being Men, Women, Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power, Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power and Not harassed in the workplace, calculated using percentage and predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Men Women
Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power Not harassed in the workplace Harassed in the workplace by person in position of power Harassed in the workplace, but not by a person in position of power Not harassed in the workplace
percent
Unadjusted results
Life is quite a bit/extremely stressful 38.2 24.7 17.7Note * 41.4 29.9 21.4Note *
Fair/poor general health 15.9 12.0 8.6Note * 18.0 10.1 8.3Note *
Fair/poor mental health 25.2 13.7Note * 6.2Note * 24.5 12.7Note * 7.5Note *
   predicted probabilities
Adjusted resultsTable 5a Note 1
Life is quite a bit/extremely stressful 39.8 25.7 18.6Note * 39.1 28.4 20.5Note *
Fair/poor general health 15.3 11.2 9.2 15.0 10.1 7.9
Fair/poor mental health 25.7 13.1Note * 6.5Note * 20.8 11.6 7.3Note *

Conclusion

This paper found that overall, women experienced workplace harassment slightly more than men, at 19%, compared with men, at 13%. While men and women reported similar rates of humiliating behaviour and threats, women were more likely to report verbal abuse, physical violence and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment in the workplace. The least frequent type of workplace harassment for women was threats to their person (3%), while for men it was sexual harassment (less than 1%). A closer examination of sexual harassment of women found that over one-quarter of them reported that they were targeted by multiple perpetrators, and that most women (56%) were targeted by clients or customers.

With respect to all forms of workplace harassment, men and women differed slightly on who they were most likely to report as the perpetrator. Men reported that it was a supervisor or manager in greater proportions than women, while women conversely reported a higher proportion of clients or customers. Generally speaking, workplace harassment was also associated with lower levels of workplace well-being and personal well-being for both women and men. The association between workplace harassment and workplace well-being was especially important in the case of those who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager.

Consistent with other research,Note workers in health-related occupations (which have a higher proportion of women) were more likely to experience workplace harassment. The probability of reporting workplace harassment in the past year was 23% among workers in this category; they were predominantly harassed by clients or customers.

In sum, this paper provided a look into not only the prevalence of workplace harassment across the employed population in Canada, but also into the correlates of harassment, the characteristics of those who were harassed, and the association between harassment and a number of personal and workplace well-being indicators. Workers who reported workplace harassment were more likely to be dissatisfied with their current job, have low motivation to do their best work, be more likely to say they are planning to leave their current work, and have a weak sense of belonging to their workplace. These workers also had worse health—general and mental—as well as higher levels of reported stress, and a less hopeful view of the future. Harassment in the workplace therefore has a considerable impact not only on people’s lives but also on employers.

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Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The article uses data from the 2016 General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS is a voluntary annual cross-sectional survey that started in 1985. Each cycle contains a core topic and a standard set of sociodemographic questions. The theme for the 2016 cycle was Canadians at work and home. The survey takes a comprehensive look at the way Canadians live by incorporating the realms of work, home, leisure and overall well-being. Included are questions on purpose in life, opportunities, life aspirations, outlook and resilience.

The target population for the survey is non-institutionalized persons aged 15 and over, living in the 10 provinces of Canada. The survey was conducted from August 2016 to December 2016. The overall survey response rate was 50.8%, while the total sample size was 19,609. This article focuses on people aged 15 to 64 who worked for pay during the past 12 months, which consisted of approximately 9,000 respondents.

In the GSS, several questions were asked about workplace harassment. In the 2016 GSS, five types of workplace harassment were examined: (1) verbal abuse; (2) humiliating behaviour; (3) threats; (4) physical violence; and (5) unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment. The following question on sexual harassment in the workplace was asked: “In the past 12 months, have you been subjected to unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment while at work?” Readers should note that the definition of sexual harassment includes those who experienced reported sexual harassment, as well as those who reported unwanted sexual attention. It is not possible to distinguish the two concepts in the GSS. The sample size of those who answered “Yes” to the question above totalled 235 paid workers aged 15 to 64.

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The association between work environment and workplace harassment

In this study, the reference period for experiences of workplace harassment is the year preceding the 2016 General Social Survey on Canadians at Work and Home. Given that employees who have experienced workplace harassment are more likely to leave their job, the characteristics of respondents’ current job do not necessarily pertain to the job they held when the workplace harassment occurred. For this reason, a subsample of respondents aged 15 to 64 who were employed in the same job for all 52 weeks in the past year, including the week before they were interviewed, was used to examine the association between work environment and workplace harassment (representing a sample of about 5,700 respondents).

The characteristics of the subsample of continuously employed workers in the same job in the past year differ from those of the subsample of workers who were employed at any point in the past year in important ways. Workers who were continuously employed in the same job in the past year were older; more likely to be married; have higher levels of completed education; less likely to be employed in sales and services occupations; more likely to work regular hours; and earn more than workers who were not employed in the same job during the entire past year.

Previous research suggests that the psychosocial quality of the work environment is an important determinant of workplace harassment.Note For this reason, several work conditions were analyzed in relation to workplace harassment: (1) opportunity to provide input into decision making; (2) receipt of help and support from their manager or supervisor; (3) manageability of their workload; (4) degree of choice in the sequencing of tasks; (5) degree of competition with colleagues; (6) conflicts with managers or supervisors, and (7) number of good friends at work.

Workplace harassment in the past year is associated with indicators of a poor-quality work environment. Specifically, continuously employed workers in the same job in the past year were more likely to report workplace harassment if they had fewer opportunities to provide input into decision making; less support from their managers or supervisors; unmanageable workloads; limited choice in the sequencing of tasks; more competition among colleagues; more frequent conflicts with managers or supervisors; and fewer good friends at work (Table 6).


Table 6
Workplace harassment among continuously employed workers in the same job, by indicator of work environment, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Workplace harassment among continuously employed workers in the same job Harassed at work in past year, Men and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Harassed at work in past year
Men Women
percent
All continuously employed people 13.2 20.3Note *
I have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect my work.
Strongly agree/agree (ref.) 9.8 17.2Note *
Neither agree nor disagree 21.5Table 6 Note  22.8
Strongly disagree/disagree 31.7Table 6 Note  36.6Table 6 Note 
How often does your manager or supervisor help and support you?
Always/often (ref.) 9.5 15.0Note *
Sometimes 15.8Table 6 Note  26.3Note * Table 6 Note 
Rarely/Never 29.0Table 6 Note  37.9Table 6 Note 
How often do you consider your workload manageable?
Always/often (ref.) 11.2 15.8Note *
Sometimes 17.6Table 6 Note  27.1Note * Table 6 Note 
Rarely/Never 22.2Table 6 Note  40.3Note * Table 6 Note 
How often can you choose the sequence of your tasks?
Always/often (ref.) 10.0 16.2Note *
Sometimes 18.8Table 6 Note  27.0Table 6 Note 
Rarely/Never 21.2Table 6 Note  31.8Table 6 Note 
How often do you feel you have been competing with your colleague(s)?
Always/often (ref.) 19.1 33.9Note *
Sometimes 15.8 24.8
Rarely/Never 11.4Table 6 Note  17.9Note * Table 6 Note 
How often have you had conflicts at work with managers or supervisors?
Always/often (ref.) 33.5 53.8
Sometimes 24.3 37.3Note *
Rarely/Never 9.7Table 6 Note  16.2Note * Table 6 Note 
How many good friends do you have at work?
None (ref.) 15.5 27.6
One or two 14.9 24.7Note *
A few 13.2 20.6Note *
Many 11.5 14.8Table 6 Note 

Notably, the association between workplace harassment and work environment tends to be stronger for women than men. For example, 40% of continuously employed women who rarely or never consider their workload to be manageable reported that they had been harassed in the workplace, compared with 22% of their male counterparts. Similarly, 34% of continuously employed women who reported that they always or often felt that they were competing with their colleagues reported that they had been harassed in the workplace, compared with 19% of their male counterparts. Having good friends at work seems to be a factor when it comes to workplace harassment among women, which was reported by close to 30% of women who had no friends at work, compared with 16% of men.

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Related information

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