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2023 Workplace Harassment & Employee Misconduct Insights

52% of employees have experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace. Get the latest data and insights into critical areas that need to be addressed to ensure a healthy, safe work environment.

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Key Findings and Statistics on Workplace Harassment & Misconduct

Workplace harassment and misconduct affect 52% of employees. This significantly impacts the entire employee experience, which in turn influences employee retention, organizational reputation and employment brand.

This year, we surveyed nearly 2,000 U.S. employees across various industries, organization sizes and demographics to conduct the 2023 Workplace Harassment & Misconduct Insights study. The findings are indisputable – and demonstrate the value of consistent processes, clear communication, thorough investigations and well-defined aftercare to support employees and create a healthy workplace culture.

This page shares the findings from the 2023 Workplace Harassment & Misconduct Insights, so you, too, can join us to commit to creating a safer, fairer and better workplace for all employees. Let’s take a closer look.

1. The state of the workplace

Graph depicting that over 50% of employees were exposed to workplace harassment or misconductAs mentioned above, just over half (52%) of employees have experienced or witnessed inappropriate, unethical or illegal behaviors at work. The most prevalent of these behaviors were bullying (51%), sexual harassment (40%) and racism (30%).

This should never be tolerated in the workplace. Organizations must enforce strong policies and procedures to prevent and manage these issues.

Certain behaviors were also more prevalent within varying office environments, as well as for specific demographics and job levels. Let’s take a closer look.

Office environment harassment trends

Of all the workplace settings, it’s no surprise that the in-office environment is where most employees observed or experienced inappropriate, illegal or unethical behaviors (80%).

As workplace environments continue to evolve (as many implement hybrid models or commit to being fully remote), organizations must establish clear policies that address inappropriate behavior and code of conduct for all environments.

Harassment trends by demographic

Depending on gender, age and race, some groups face more challenges than others within the workplace.

By gender:

Graph depicting that 83% of transgender employees have experienced or witnessed a workplace issueAn immense 83% of transgender employees have experienced or witnessed an issue at work, compared to 52% of total respondents.

By age:

Graph showing 18-44-year-old workers are 3 times more likely to observe remote work problemsEmployees aged 18-44 were two to three times more likely to observe or experience issues when working remotely than other age groups.

By race:

Graph depicting that black employees experienced more workplace racism and discriminationBlack employees experienced significantly more racism and discrimination than overall employees. Only 30% of total employees experienced/witnessed racism, while 61% of Black employees experienced/witnessed racism. In addition, only 40% of total employees encountered discrimination, compared to 61% of Black employees.

Harassment trends by job level and position

Job level and position can also influence an employee’s experience of harassment and misconduct at work. For example, managers and independent contractors were more likely to have been impacted at work events outside of the office. Contractors were also more likely to experience harassment or discrimination when working remotely.

Trends by inappropriate, unethical or illegal behavior type

Certain negative workplace behaviors are more common than others. 51% of employees have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying. Such harmful conduct in professional settings can be detrimental to employee well-being and decrease productivity. Additionally, 40% of employees have experienced or witnessed discrimination and sexual harassment at work, which can threaten employee safety. The prevalence of these damaging workplace issues emphasizes the urgent need for proactive measures to address these issues and create safer work environments. 

Graph depicting bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment as the top inappropriate behaviors at work


2. The Issue with Reporting Workplace Concerns

Graph depicting that reporting rates have decreased 6% since 2019
In 2023, only 58% of employees reported the poor behaviors they experienced or witnessed, meaning that 42% of inappropriate workplace behaviors were not reported. This is down 6% from 2019 – and reveals a growing blind spot of unreported incidents for organizations.

There are a multitude of reasons why employees fail to report workplace issues, but it often boils down to a lack of comfortability, lack of trust, fear of retaliation and more. In fact, nearly half (46%) of employees fear retaliation if they reported concerns.

Graph of the reasons why employees didn’t report workplace harassment or misconductEmployees who do report will most often turn to managers (61%) or Human Resources (48%). Therefore, managers and HR teams need to ensure they are set up to provide an attentive, thoughtful response to reports of misconduct and harassment.

Helping employees feel more confident

Organizations must show employees their commitment to addressing and preventing inappropriate behaviors. One way to do this effectively is to offer anonymous issue reporting, which allows employees to come forward without sharing their identity. It’s also important to share aggregated outcomes with employees. By committing to your employee safety, it will build employee trust and ultimately lead a more accurate view into workplace issues.

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3) Dealing with Workplace Issues

How do employees feel about the way their organization handles workplace issues and investigations? 40% have little confidence in their employer’s approach to addressing such concerns.

Graph depicting the divide amongst employees regarding their confidence in their workplace’s approach to addressing issuesIt’s so important that employees feel supported through these difficult situations – and have confidence in the processes to address these issues.

Employers must demonstrate their commitment to reduce workplace harassment by providing clear communication regarding the processes they have in place to address and manage issues. They also need to conduct thorough, consistent investigations to make informed decisions and encourage employee trust.

Graph depicting that issue resolutions have declined from 70% to 63% over the past 4 years
Interestingly, issue resolutions from investigations have declined from 70% in 2019 to 63% in 2023, which shows there is room for improvement there.

But fortunately, 74% of employees involved in a workplace investigation felt they were treated with dignity and respect, received timely responses and had good communication throughout the process.

However, 39% of employees cited a lack of communication and 42% lacked understanding of what to expect – which signifies a large number of organizations that need to improve their processes and communication.

Graph depicting different employee sentiments following an investigation process

Aftercare in the investigation process

A critical component of the investigation process is aftercare. Prioritizing aftercare within the issue resolution process ensures employees feel heard and can move past the issue, therefore keeping them engaged and productive. A lack of aftercare can cause unresolved emotional issues to fester and negatively impact employee engagement, productivity, morale and even retention.

Employees deserve to receive ample follow-up and care following an investigation. This includes sharing the outcome of an investigation with involved employees. Yet only 1/3 of employees said the investigation outcome was shared with them. And nearly 3/4 of employees (73%) were not monitored for signs of retaliation afterward.

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4) The Impact on Workplace Culture

There is a strong connection between workplace issues, how your organization responds and workplace culture. How organizations address workplace harassment and misconduct matters as much as their efforts to prevent it. If done haphazardly, it can damage employee loyalty and put an organization at risk.

Employees should feel safe (and happy) at work – and comfortable to come forward with issues. If they don’t trust how your organization is going to handle the issue, they are less likely to remain engaged.

Positive reporting experiences

One way to measure the satisfaction of employees is through referrals. When you have a satisfied workforce, employees are your biggest advocates.

When a fellow coworker faced a workplace issue, 31% of employees said they were likely to refer their peers to HR. This number increases when employees had positive experiences with HR/ER – and decreases when employees had negative experiences. And 65% of employees who reported issues that were investigated and resolved said they would likely refer colleagues to HR. Only 19% of employees would do so when their issues were mismanaged.

Graph depicting that employee referrals to HR decreased when issues are not reported or investigatedSimilarly, 31% of employees were likely to recommend their organization as an employer overall. This rate dropped to 22% when exposed to harassment or misconduct, 12% when issues were not reported and 7% when reported issues were not investigated. But when employee issues were reported, investigated and resolved, the referral rate increased to 56%. This demonstrates the unequivocal importance and benefit of addressing harassment and misconduct.

Negative or nonexistent reporting experiences

How organizations handle harassment and misconduct can make or break employee trust, loyalty and advocacy. Poor issue handling sends a message that the employer does not take concerns seriously and can drive employees to leave.

Graph depicting that 57% of employees leave a job following workplace harassment or misconduct issues
In fact, 57% of employees cited harassment or misconduct as the reason they left or a factor in their decision. And 30% of employees who experienced or witnessed inappropriate, unethical or illegal behaviors left the organization following the incident, compared to only 11% of employees who were not exposed to harassment or misconduct.

Graph depicting that 30% of harassed employees leave vs. 11% of non-harassed employeesWhen organizations allow harassment to occur in the workplace, they risk losing valuable employees. In order to prevent losses and increase retention, organizations need to create a culture that does not tolerate inappropriate behavior, encourage employees to report concerns, conduct fair, thorough and consistent investigations and more.

Want more great workplace harassment and misconduct insights?

Download the 2023 Workplace Harassment and Misconduct Insights today.

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Attend the Webinar:

Dive into Data How to Shape Safe Workplaces

How common are harassment and misconduct in the workplace? How does it really impact your organization? And what can you do to prevent such harmful behavior?

Watch HR Acuity CEO, Deb Muller, and Chief People Officer, Rebecca Trotsky, delve into the top three crucial findings from the 2023 Workplace Harassment & Employee Misconduct Insights in a webinar recorded live on August 23, 2023.

Register now to secure your spot to learn how our data can work for you.

Deb Muller

Chief Executive Officer | HR Acuity

Rebecca Trotsky

Chief People Officer | HR Acuity
Register now to secure your spot to learn how our data can work for you.

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