Māori, Pacific, Asian, disabled and bisexual workers most likely to be bullied, harassed at work - survey

Māori, Pacific, Asian, as well as disabled and bisexual workers are more likely to be bullied or harassed at work, new research has revealed. 

The survey, which was conducted by Kantar Public for the Human Rights Commission, aimed to better understand the prevalence of sexual and racial harassment and bullying in New Zealand workplaces.

The nationwide survey was conducted from May 19 to 29 this year with more than 25,000 workers taking part. It provides a representative picture of the population, along with a booster sample of hospitality workers aged under 30.

It found 30 percent of workers experienced sexual harassment in the last five years, 39 percent experienced racial harassment in the same period and 20 percent experienced bullying behaviour frequently in the last 12 months alone.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo said it is "unacceptable abuse is occurring and is so widespread in our workplaces". 

"We are essentially failing our people," Sumeo added. 

When broken down further, the data revealed that young females, bisexual, and disabled workers were especially likely to experience sexual harassment. While racial harassment was most prevalent among minority ethnicities, disabled workers, and migrant workers.

Workers who reported the highest rates of bullying included younger people, disabled, bisexual, and Pacific workers.

The survey also found a startling 86 percent of workers who experienced harassment or bullying were negatively impacted, while 29 percent said their experiences had a large or extremely negative impact.

Workers who were harassed or bullied said it made them feel disrespected, uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Some workers reported they were so distressed they considered killing themselves. 

Sumeo said people should be able to expect a safe work environment free from discrimination and violence. 

"These stories are heartbreaking. 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.  

"Employers must ensure that staff do not abuse power and influence over other colleagues." 

The research also found formal pathways for addressing harassment and bullying were both uncommon and, when accessed, often ineffective. Only 24 percent of workers raised a formal complaint while almost a third of workers chose not to tell anyone about it.

"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," explained Sumeo.

"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."

Many workers said they wanted better support, preferably from someone independent looking into workplace culture and policies.

"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.

"I call on the Government, business, and unions to collaborate now to urgently and critically review our Accident Compensation and Health and Safety at Work laws, to better support those who have suffered and continue to suffer harm from these acts of violence. We also need to make clear the duties and responsibilities of employers to prevent revictimization from abusers."

"Working Kiwis have a right to safe, healthy work environments, and deserve better protection than what is afforded to them now."

Key figures at a glance

  • Nearly one in three (30 percent) workers have personally experienced sexual harassment in the last 5 years.
  • Young women (54 percent), bisexual workers (67 percent), and disabled workers (58 percent) are especially likely to have experienced sexual harassment.
  • Sexual harassment is more common in the healthcare and social assistance (41 percent) and hospitality sectors (43 percent for hospitality workers aged under 30 years).
  • In the last 5 years, nearly four in ten (39 percent) workers have experienced some form of racial harassment.
  • Over half of Māori (52 percent), Pacific (62 percent), Asian (62 percent), disabled (61 percent), and recent migrant (61 percent) workers have been racially harassed.
  • Two in five workers believe they have been subject to workplace bullying in their lifetime.
  • Younger workers are more susceptible to bullying. Bullying is also especially high among disabled (52 percent), bisexual (39 percent), and Pacific (26 percent) workers.
  • 86 percent of workers who have been harassed or bullied have been negatively impacted by the experience. Twenty-nine percent reported the experience had a significant or extremely negative impact.
  • The most commonly reported impacts of workplace bullying, and harassment were mental or physical health impacts (64 percent reported this), with feelings of anxiety (47 percent), depression (35 percent), and trouble with sleeping or eating (26 percent) being commonly reported.
  • Perpetrators are often in positions of power, with 83 percent of workers experiencing workplace bullying or harassment reporting that the perpetrator was a manager/supervisor/partner/director (53 percent) or more senior co-worker (30 percent).
  • While male perpetrators are more common (72 percent), women also carry out acts of harassment and bullying (for 52 percent of impacted workers, a female perpetrator was involved).
  • Only 24 percent of workers who reported experiencing workplace bullying or harassment raised a formal complaint.  Forty-three percent of those who did were dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint.
  • The top reasons provided for not making a complaint or seeking support were feeling that it wouldn't make a difference (34 percent), concerns about the impact that reporting the issue would have on their job/career (29 percent) or that reporting the issue would make the situation worse (29 percent).
  • Two in five workers (42 percent) impacted by harassment/bullying felt they needed more support than what they received at the time. 
  • The most common forms of support/services that would have been useful to workers at the time are an independent review of workplace cultures/policies (31 percent), workplace anti-bullying and -harassment training (29 percent), and support to make an internal complaint (20 percent).