Focus on Harassment

The Focus series is a collection of reports that present the results of the 2014 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES), broken down by theme. Focus on Harassment looks at results in the area of harassment and examines how they relate to results for other aspects of the workplace. The information provided in this report is intended to help target efforts to improve people management practices in the public service.

Overall Results

The 2014 PSES contained seven questionsSee Footnote 1 relating to harassment, including three new questions meant to obtain a clearer picture of harassment in the workplace. These new questions deal with the type of harassment experienced, the actions taken to address the harassment, and the reasons employees did not formally report the harassment (i.e., make a complaint or file a grievance).

The definition of harassment and the response options for questions relating to the incidence and sources of harassment were modified from previous surveys, so comparisons of the results over time are not possible.

Incidence of harassment

In 2014, 19% of employees indicated that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (Q63).

Source(s) of the harassment

Employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment were asked to identify the source(s) of the harassment (Q64). The results are as follows.

Table 1: Source(s) of the harassment
Source(s) %
Individuals with authority over them 63
Co-workers 50
Members of the public 9
Individuals working for them 7
Individuals from other departments or agencies 5
Individuals for whom they have custodial responsibility 4

Nature of the harassment

Employees who indicated that they had been harassed were also asked to identify the nature of the harassment (Q65). The results are as follows.

Table 2: Nature of the harassment
Source(s) %
Offensive remark 57
Unfair treatment 46
Being excluded or ignored 43
Aggressive behaviour 40
Excessive control 40
Humiliation 40
Personal attack 36
Interferences with work or withholding resources 29
Yelling or shouting 29
Threat 13
Sexual comment or gesture 9
Physical violence 2

Action(s) to address the harassment

Among the 19% of employees who indicated that they had been harassed, 7% filed a grievance or formal complaint and 25% took no action. The following actions were also cited (Q66).

Table 3: Action(s) to address the harassment
Source(s) %
Discussed the matter with their supervisor or senior manager
51
Discussed the matter with the person(s) from whom they experienced harassment
30
Contacted their union representative
21
Resolved the matter informally on their own
16
Used an informal conflict resolution process
12
Contacted a human resources advisor in their organization 10

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

Employees who indicated that they did not file a grievance or formal complaint were asked to provide their reason(s) for not doing so (Q67). The results are as follows.

Table 4: Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint
Reason(s) %
Did not believe it would make a difference
54
Afraid of reprisal
45
Concerns about the formal complaint process
25
Did not think the incident was serious enough
16
Issue was resolved
13
Behaviour stopped
11
Too distraught
11
Changed jobs
11
The individual left or changed jobs
10
Management intervened 10
Advised against filing a complaint 9
Did not know what to do, where to go or whom to ask 8
The individual apologized 8
Threat 2

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

The 2014 PSES asked employees to indicate their impression of their organization's response to harassment and its efforts to prevent harassment.

Half of all employees (50%) agreed that they were satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (Q68). Nearly one quarter (24%) of employees responded that they didn't know.

Almost two thirds of employees (64%) agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69), much lower than in 2011 (72%). Just over 1 in 10 (11%) of employees indicated that they didn't know.

Demographic Findings

Occupational category

Incidence

The incidence of harassment varies among occupational categoriesSee Footnote 2. Employees in the Operational category were the most likely (27%) and employees in the Executive category were the least likely (11%) to indicate that they had been the victim of harassment in the past two years.

Source(s)

When asked the source(s) of the harassment, employees in all occupational categories except Administrative Support most often indicated individuals with authority over them (from 59% to 65%). The most commonly cited sources of harassment for Administrative Support employees were co-workers (61%) and individuals with authority (59%).

Employees in the Operational category were more likely than employees in other occupational categories to indicate the following as the source(s) of the harassment:

  • Individuals with authority over them: 65% compared with 59% to 64% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Individuals for whom they have a custodial responsibility: 17% compared with 1% to 2% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Members of the public: 14% compared with 5% to 12% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Individuals from other departments or agencies: 7% compared with 4% to 6% for employees in other occupational categories

Employees in the Executive category were more likely than employees in other occupational categories to indicate that they had been harassed by individuals working for them (25% compared with 2% to 9% for employees in other occupational categories) and less likely to indicate that they had been harassed by co-workers (28% compared with 46% to 61% for employees in other occupational categories).

Nature

When asked to indicate the nature of the harassment they had experienced, employees in the Operational category were more likely than employees in the other occupational categories to indicate the following:

  • Offensive remarks: 64% compared with 53% to 57% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Unfair treatment: 52% compared with 42% to 48% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Yelling or shouting: 39% compared with 25% to 33% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Threat: 20% compared with 10% to 16% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Sexual comment or gesture: 14% compared with 2% to 8% for employees in other occupational categories
  • Physical violence: 6% compared with 1% to 2% for employees in other occupational categories

Employees in the Executive category were more likely than employees in the other occupational categories to indicate that they had experienced aggressive behaviour (53% compared with 38% to 43% for employees in other occupational categories).

Action(s) taken

Among employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment, those in the Executive category were the least likely to indicate that they had taken no action in response to it (21% compared with 23% to 27% for employees in other occupational categories).

Employees in the Executive category were more likely than those in other categories to indicate that they had discussed the matter with their supervisor or a senior manager (57% compared with 44% to 55% for employees in other occupational categories) or with the person(s) from whom they had experienced the harassment (37% compared with 27% to 31% for employees in other occupational categories).

Employees in the Executive category were the least likely to indicate that they had resolved the matter on their own (13% compared with 21% for employees in the Operational category, and 14% to 17% for employees in other occupational categories), or that they had filed a grievance or formal complaint (3% compared with 11% for employees in the Operational category, and 5% to 9% for employees in other occupational categories).

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

Reasons for not filing a grievance or formal complaint were similar among occupational categories; however, employees in the Operational category were more likely than those in other categories to indicate that they had not filed a grievance or formal complaint because they did not believe it would make a difference (60% compared with 51% to 54% for employees in other occupational categories).

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

When asked about their organization's efforts to resolve and prevent harassment, employees in the Executive category tended to express the most positive opinions; employees in the Operational category, the least positive.

On the resolution side, 76% of all employees in the Executive category indicated that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (Q68), compared with 40% of employees in the Operational category, and 47% to 53% of employees in other occupational categories.

On the prevention side, 82% of all employees in the Executive category agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69), compared with 50% of employees in the Operational category, and 63% to 66% of employees in other occupational categories.

Employment equity groups

Persons with disabilities

Incidence

More than one in three (37%) employees with a disability indicated that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years, compared with 17% for other employees.

Source(s)

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, those with a disability were more likely than others to indicate that an individual with authority over them was the source of the harassment (71% compared with 61%).

Nature

Among employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment, employees with a disability were more likely than other employees to indicate that the harassment involved their being excluded or ignored (56% compared with 41%) and being unfairly treated (59% compared with 44%).

Action(s) taken

Employees with a disability were more likely than other employees to indicate that they had contacted their union representative about the harassment (34% compared with 20%) and to indicate that they had filed a grievance or formal complaint about it (13% compared with 6%). Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, those with a disability were less likely than other employees to indicate they had taken no action in response to it (22% compared with 25%).

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

Employees with a disability who indicated they had been harassed but who did not file a grievance or formal complaint were more likely than other employees to indicate that they did not do so because they did not believe it would make a difference (59% compared with 53%), because they were afraid of reprisal (55% compared with 43%), because they had concerns about the formal complaint process (32% compared with 24%) or because they were too distraught (17% compared with 10%).

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

Employees with a disability were also less likely than other employees to agree that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (37% compared with 51%, Q68) and that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (52% compared with 65%, Q69).

Aboriginal people

Incidence

Employees who identified as Aboriginal were more likely than other employees to indicate that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (30% compared with 18%).

Source(s)

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, Aboriginal employees were more likely than other employees to indicate that they had been harassed by their colleagues (55% compared with 50%) and by members of the public (12% compared with 8%).

Nature

Among employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment, Aboriginal employees were more likely than other employees to indicate that the harassment took the form of offensive remarks (61% compared with 57%), unfair treatment (52% compared with 46%), being excluded or ignored (47% compared with 42%), humiliation (44% compared with 40%), or interference with work or withholding resources (34% compared with 28%).

Action(s) taken

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, those who identified as Aboriginal were more likely to have contacted their union representative (27% compared with 21%) and to have filed a grievance or formal complaint (9% compared with 7%).

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

Among employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment but who did not file a grievance or formal complaint, Aboriginal employees were more likely than other employees to indicate that they did not do so because they were afraid of reprisal (49% compared with 44%). Aboriginal employees were, however, less likely than others to indicate that they did not file a grievance or formal complaint because they did not think the incident was serious enough (12% compared with 17%).

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

Aboriginal employees were less likely than other employees to agree that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (43% compared with 50%, Q68) and that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (56% compared with 65%, Q69).

Members of a visible minority group

Incidence

Similar proportions of visible minority employees and other employees indicated that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (19% and 18%, respectively).

Source(s)

Employees who identified as members of a visible minority and other employees also provided similar responses regarding the source(s) of the harassment they experienced.

Nature

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, employees who identified as members of a visible minority were more likely than other employees to indicate that the harassment took the form of unfair treatment (53% compared with 45%).

Action(s) taken

Among employees who had been harassed, those who identified as members of a visible minority were more likely than other employees to indicate that they took no action to address the harassment (28% compared with 24%). Identical proportions of visible minority and other employees indicated that they filed a grievance or formal complaint (7%).

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

The reasons given for not filing a grievance or formal complaint were similar for visible minority employees and other employees.

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

Similar proportions of visible minority employees and other employees agreed that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (52% and 50%, respectively, Q68) and that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (65% and 64%, respectively, Q69).

Women

Incidence

Women were more likely than men to indicate that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (20% compared with 16%).

Source(s)

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, women were less likely than men to indicate that the harassment had come from individuals with authority over them (60% compared with 66%) and more likely than men to indicate that the harassment had come from co-workers (52% compared with 47%).

Nature

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, women were less likely than men to indicate that the harassment took the form of unfair treatment (44% compared with 49%), excessive control (38% compared with 43%) and threats (11% compared with 17%); they were more likely than men to indicate that it involved sexual comments or gestures (11% compared with 5%).

Action(s) taken

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, women were less likely than men to indicate they took no action to address the harassment they experienced (23% compared with 28% of men). Women were more likely than men to have discussed the matter with their supervisor or a senior manager (55% compared with 45%); however, they were slightly less likely than men to have filed a grievance or formal complaint (6% compared with 8%).

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

Among employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment but who did not file a grievance or formal complaint, women were more likely than men to indicate that they did not do so because management intervened (12% compared with 8%) or because they had changed jobs (12% compared to 8%) . On the other hand, women were less likely than men to indicate that they did not file a grievance or formal complaint because they did not believe it would make a difference (52% compared with 56%).

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

Women were slightly less likely than men to agree that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (49% compared with 52%, Q68), but similar proportions of women and men agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (64% and 65%, respectively, Q69).

Age

Incidence

Employees aged 24 years and under were less likely than employees in older age groups to indicate that they had been the victim of harassment at work in the past two years (11% compared with 16% to 20% for employees in older age groups). Harassment levels were the highest among employees aged 40 to 49 (20%).

Source(s)

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, those aged 24 years and under were more likely than employees in older age groups to have been harassed by co-workers (65% compared with 47% to 62% for employees in older age groups) and by individuals from other departments or agencies (7% compared with 4% to 6% for employees in older age groups). On the other hand, employees aged 24 years and under were less likely than employees in older age groups to have been harassed by individuals with authority over them (43% compared with 55% to 64% for employees in older age groups).

Nature

When asked to indicate the nature of the harassment they had experienced, 1 in 4 employees aged 24 years and under (25%) who had experienced harassment indicated that it was a sexual comment or gesture. The proportion of employees who selected sexual comment or gesture as the type of harassment they had experienced decreased with age (19% of employees aged 25 to 29, compared with 3% of employees aged 55 and over) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Nature of harassment - sexual comment or gesture (Q65See Footnote 3) by age group
Bar charts of the results for Question 65. Text version below:
Figure 1 - Text version

Figure 1 illustrates the proportion of employees who selected the response option "sexual comment or gesture" to Q65 (Please indicate the nature of the harassment you experienced) by age group. Q65 was asked only to employees who indicated that they have been the victim of harassment (Q63).

24 years and under 25-29 years 30-34 years 35-39 years 40-44 years 45 to 49 years 50 to 54 years 55-59 years 60 years and over
25% 19% 14% 11% 9% 6% 5% 3% 3%

Action(s) taken

Among employees who indicated that they had been harassed, those aged 24 years and under were less likely than employees in older age groups to indicate that they discussed the matter with a superior (42% compared with 47% to 54%), discussed it with the source of the harassment (17% compared with 27% to 31%), contacted their union representative (5% compared with 15% to 25%), used an informal conflict resolution process (5% compared with 10% to 12%), contacted a human resources advisor in their organization (3% compared with 7% to 12%), or filed a formal grievance or complaint (3% compared with 4% to 9%). The proportion of employees who indicated that they took no action in response to the harassment they experienced decreased with age: 36% of employees aged 24 years and under, 23% of employees aged 45 to 59, and 24% of employees aged 60 and over.

Reason(s) for not filing a grievance or formal complaint

The proportion of employees who indicated that they did not file a grievance or formal complaint because they did not think the incident was serious enough also decreased with age: 44% of employees aged 24 years and under, 11% of employees aged 50 to 59 years, and 12% of employees aged 60 years and over.

Similarly, the proportion of employees who did not file a grievance or formal complaint because they did not know what to do, where to go or whom to ask decreased with age (19% of employees aged 24 years and under, compared with 6% of employees aged 50 years and over).

Organizational efforts to resolve and prevent harassment

Employees aged 24 years and under were more likely than employees in older age groups to agree that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their organization (70% compared with 47% to 55% for employees in older age groups, Q68) and that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (78% compared with 62% to 68% for employees in older age groups, Q69).

Key Observations

Harassment linked to less positive perceptions of organizational efforts to prevent and deal with harassment

The 2014 results show that employees who have been harassed at work tend to hold less positive views about their organization's efforts to prevent and deal with harassment. Employees who indicated that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (Q63) were less likely than those who did not to believe that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (31% compared with 73%, Q69) and to be satisfied with how their organization resolves matters related to harassment (20% compared with 60%, Q68).

Harassment and organizational efforts to prevent and resolve harassment linked to differences in opinions about the workplace

Satisfaction with the organization

Employees who indicated that they had been harassed on the job in the past two years generally expressed lower levels of satisfaction with their organization than employees who indicated that they had not been harassed. Among employees who had been harassed, 41% were satisfied with their organization (Q59), compared with 69% of employees who had not been harassed.

Differences in levels of satisfaction with the organization were even greater between employees who had positive opinions about their organization's efforts to prevent and resolve harassment issues and employees who did not. For example, employees who agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69) were more than three times as likely as those who disagreed to indicate that they are satisfied with their organization (80% compared with 24%, Q59).

Perceptions of respect and ethics in the workplace

Employees who had been harassed on the job in the past two years were less likely than those who had not to perceive their workplace as respectful and ethical.

For example, employees who had been harassed (Q63) were less likely than those who had not been harassed to feel that their organization treats them with respect (54% compared with 85%, Q57) and that, in their work unit, every individual is accepted as an equal member of the team (46% compared with 79%, Q25). Also, employees who had been harassed were less likely than those who had not to agree that they are satisfied with how interpersonal issues are resolved in their work unit (37% compared with 71%, Q24) and that they can initiate a formal recourse process (such as a grievance, complaint or appeal) without fear of reprisal (22% compared with 51%, Q50).

Differences in perceptions were much greater between employees who hold positive opinions of their organization's efforts to prevent and resolve harassment issues and those who do not. In particular, employees who agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69) were more likely than those who disagreed to also feel that their organization treats them with respect (93% compared with 39%, Q57), and that in their work unit, every individual is accepted as an equal member of the team (85% compared with 36%, Q25). Further, employees who agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69) were more likely than those who disagreed to be satisfied with how interpersonal issues are resolved in their work unit (79% compared with 27%, Q24), and to agree that they can initiate a formal recourse process without fear of reprisal (62% compared with 13%, Q50).

Opinions about senior management

Employees who had been harassed tended to perceive their senior management in a less positive light than employees who had not been harassed, particularly in relation to the ethical nature of senior management's behaviour. Employees who had been harassed (Q63) were less likely to believe that senior managers in their organization lead by example in ethical behaviour (40% compared with 67%, Q39).

Differences in opinions about senior management were even greater between employees who have positive opinions about organizational efforts to prevent and resolve harassment and those who do not. For example, employees who agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q69) were much more likely than those who disagreed to feel that senior managers in their organization lead by example in ethical behaviour (78% compared with 23%, Q39).

Employees harassed by superiors less likely to take action, more likely to fear reprisal

Among employees who had been harassed, those who cited individuals with authority over them as a source of the harassment were less likely than those who did not cite that source to have taken action in response to the harassment. In particular, employees who indicated that they had been harassed by a superior (Q64) were more likely than those who did not to indicate that they had taken no action (27% compared with 21%, Q66). Also, among employees who did not file a grievance or formal complaint in response to the harassment they experienced, those who indicated that they had been harassed by a superior were more than twice as likely as those who did not to cite fear of reprisal as the reason they did not file a grievance or formal complaint (57% compared with 24%, Q67).

Harassment and discrimination closely linked

The 2014 results show that harassment and discrimination are closely related. Twenty eight per cent of employees who indicated that they had been harassed also indicated that they had been discriminated against (Q74); only 3% of employees who indicated that they had not been harassed indicated that they had been discriminated against. In addition, 66% of employees who indicated that they had been discriminated against also indicated that they had been harassed; 15% of employees who indicated that they had not been discriminated against indicated that they had been harassed.

Methodological Notes

For the purposes of this report, results for the two most positive responses on the scale (e.g., "Strongly agree" and "Somewhat agree") were added together to create a single percentage total for positive responses. Similarly, results for the two most negative responses on the scale (e.g., "Strongly disagree" and "Somewhat disagree") were added together to create a single percentage total for negative responses. The totals used to calculate the percentages do not include the responses "Don't know" and "Not applicable."

The observations in this report do not necessarily indicate relationships of cause and effect, but they can provide insight into connections between different aspects of the workplace.

For additional results and for the distribution of respondents by demographic characteristics, consult the 2014 PSES website.

Appendix

Occupational Category Occupational Group
Executive CI-EXC, DM, EC(CRA), EX, EXPCX, GR-EX, LC, MGT, PL, RLE
Scientific and Professional AC, AG, AR, AP-AA, AP-PA, ASG-ITS-LA, AU, BI, CH, CI-SPC, DE, DS, EC, ED, EN, ES, FO, HR, LA, LP, LS, MA, MD, MT, ND, NU, OP, PC, PH, PM-MCO, PS, SE, SG, SI, SW, UT, VM
Administration and Foreign Services AS, CO, CS, FI, FS, HR(CRA), IS, OM, PE, PG, PM, TR, WP
Technical AI, AO, CIPTC, DD, EG, EL, EU, GT, PI, PY, RO, SO, TI
Administrative Support CIASC, CM, CR, DA, OE, ST
Operational CX, FB, FR, GA, GL, GS, HP, HS, IN, LI, PO-IMA, PO-TCO, PR, SC, SR
Other AB, CIVIL, FT, Governor in Council, GR, IM, MDMDG, MG, NB, RE, REG, RM, SP(CRA), Student, UNI, Other
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