HR Acuity, the leading provider of employee relations case management, conducted a comprehensive study on workplace harassment and misconduct. The 2023 Workplace Harassment & Misconduct Insights dives into the challenges faced by employees who witness or experience bad behavior at work, revealing their lack of trust in the investigations process and the subsequent damage it does to their workplace loyalty. The study also reveals that despite most organizations offering anonymous reporting tools, employee distrust in those tools is rampant.
Of the key findings, one of the most alarming is that nearly half (40%) of the respondents lacked confidence that their reported concerns would be thoroughly investigated and addressed fairly. Additionally, almost half of the respondents actually feared retaliation for reporting workplace concerns. The results reinforce how important it is for employees to not only understand the value of reporting but also trust the process.
The study indicated that employees who experienced or witnessed behaviors including bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination were more likely to leave their jobs. In fact, a full thirty percent of affected employees no longer work for their organizations, compared to only 11% of those who had not experienced or observed such issues.
“It’s clear from the study results that how organizations respond to workplace harassment and bad behavior matters as much as trying to prevent it. When issues are mishandled or unresolved, culture becomes toxic, turnover increases and referrals plummet.” said Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity. “Clear communication, improved investigation processes, and real support for anonymous reporting can help rebuild employee trust. With more transparency around investigations, organizations can foster an inclusive and safe environment that bolsters employee confidence, improves reporting and helps teams proactively address workplace harassment and misconduct.”
It’s important to note that incidence reporting is trending in the wrong direction. In 2023, half of the employees experienced or witnessed incidents of workplace harassment or misconduct, but only 58% of these incidents were reported, a decrease from 64% in 2019. The study highlighted various reasons for underreporting, including discomfort, skepticism about the handling of issues, concerns about not being taken seriously and fears of retaliation.
Finally, the study also signals the need for ER departments to prepare for unique experiences across multiple segments of the workforce. The results identified distinct challenges faced by independent contractors and transgender employees. Independent contractors reported a higher rate of issues, with a significant number occurring outside of office locations. These contractors were less likely to report issues to their managers (39%) and more likely to utilize anonymous hotlines for reporting. On the other hand, transgender employees were the most affected group, with 83% having experienced or witnessed an issue. They expressed less confidence and awareness in processes for reporting and addressing concerns, often experiencing incidents outside of the office and preferring anonymous or non-anonymous reporting methods.