HRC reveals startling prevalence of workplace bullying and harassment in NZ

A national survey has revealed high rates of sexual harassment, racial harassment and bullying across New Zealand’s workplaces. 

Entitled “Experiences of Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Aotearoa New Zealand” and commissioned by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission, the nationwide survey of 2,512 showed harassment and bullying affecting all sectors in New Zealand and cutting across all socio-economic groups, but disproportionately affecting Māori, Pacific Peoples, and Asian workers, as well as disabled workers, and bisexual workers.

The Commission’s says the survey was undertaken to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of sexual harassment, racial harassment and bullying in New Zealand workplaces and “to better understand what support victims seek and may be missing to address the impacts of these negative experiences”.

Key findings include 17% of workers reporting having been sexually harassed in their working life.

15% of workers reported being racially harassed and 40% reported being bullied at some time in their working life.

86% of workers who have experienced harassment or bullying have been negatively impacted by the experience with nearly three in ten (29%), the negative impact is large or extreme. Nearly two thirds (63%) suffer from ongoing negative impacts of the harassment or bullying.

While sexual harassment occurs in all industries, it is most common in the healthcare and social assistance sector (41%). Young people working in hospitality (43%) are also especially likely to be subject to sexual harassment.

Formal pathways for addressing harassment and bullying are often ineffective.

Around three in ten (29%) workers impacted negatively by harassment or bullying don’t tell anyone about their experience. Just 24% of workers who experience harassment or bullying raise a formal complaint.

Dissatisfaction with the outcome of the formal complaint is high (43%), and even higher when the impact of the harassment is large or extreme (59%).

Power dynamics and systemic issues act as barriers to workers seeking support and/or raising a complaint. Workers don’t seek support or complain for fear of the consequences (45%) and distrust in the system – 35% felt complaining would be ineffective due to workplace cultural norms and 28% felt their complaint would not be believed or kept confidential.

“Workers want better support, preferably from someone independent”, says the report.

42% of workers impacted by harassment or bullying felt that they needed more support than what they got at the time. This jumps to 65% when the impact is large or extreme.

Top 5 things that would be useful:

  • Someone independent looking into the workplace culture/policies (31%)
  • Anti-bullying and harassment training for the workplace (29%)
  • Support to make an internal complaint (20%)
  • Independent, free service to resolve the situation (17%)
  • Counselling/mental health support services (15%).

“Workers shouldn’t have to fear for their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing while out earning a living for themselves, their households and contributing to our national prosperity,” says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo. 

“Often, workers do not feel empowered to come forward with bullying or harassment complaints for a range of reasons, including feelings of shame, denial, fear of consequences, hopelessness, helplessness, and fear of facing scrutiny and blame.”

“Employers are responsible for creating a safe environment, implementing robust processes and providing adequate support to ensure workers are able to speak openly about their experiences without fear for their livelihoods or fear of retaliation.”

“The study suggests that formal pathways for prevention and responding to harmful workplace behaviours are insufficient. Victims do not want to go through an adversarial system and the burden rests on them to be the confronter. Workers simply aren’t getting the support that they need,” Sumeo said.

Download the Human Rights Commission’s “Experiences of Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Aotearoa New Zealand”.

Report It Now helps businesses build ethics programmes, provides customised  training services and enterprise case management software. To learn more about supporting a bullying and harassment-free workplace, reach out for a free, confidential discussion.

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