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Workplace stress due to sexual harassment

INTRODUCTION

This paper relates to sexual harassment that employees encounter at work places and the distress that it causes. The work environment serves as a fertile breeding ground for sexual harassment. Employees are often subject to severe emotional, mental and physical agony that taint their professional and personal lives. The U.S Equal Employment Opportunities Commission defines workplace sexual harassment as:

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

According to the above definition, any manifestations of forced sexual behaviour upon an employee that harms the individual or its environment constitutes as workplace sexual harassment. Sexual innuendos, crude remarks, sexual jokes, inappropriate touching are all examples of sexual harassment. It is mainly associated with female victims but in recent times, males too have become prone to undesirable sexual advances. The motive behind sexual advances can be anything from simply torturing the employee for personal satisfaction to luring subordinates for a promotion. Sexual harassment is omnipresent in every field, from the public sector to the corporate private sector.

Sexual harassment at work is often feared amongst employees. The stress that victims face leads to severe mental and physiological disorders. One of the most widely known examples of sexual harassment stems from the case of the soldiers serving in the U.S military. CNN reported that around 22 percent of females and 1 percent of males in the U.S army, serving in Iraq, were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to sexual trauma (Kaye, Estrada).

Workplace stress disrupts the harmony of an organization and sexual harassment often mars the reputation of the firm. Sometimes, victims publicly sue the alleged and such charges attract the media coverage where the stressor, victim and organization’s name is publicly denounced. For instance, a victim of sexual harassment, Ms Fraser-Kirk, has sued the David Jones organization and Mr. Mark McInnes, the CEO, for $37m. Three other women pressed cases against him forcing him to resign. Kirk has described the experience as “the most disturbing period of my life,” (Bellinda Kontominas, 2010). The fact remains that even in today’s age; sexual harassment continues to be the evil norm of many organizations.

(389 words)

SEARCH STRATEGY

Once I decided to select sexual harassment as a reason for workplace stress, I logged onto the Murdoch website to access the Proquest data base. I chose to access multiple databases since the chosen topic isn’t confined to any one particular field. It is a blend of psychology and business studies. After numerous basic searches of’ job stress at work’ and ‘sexual harassment at work,’ I proceeded to the advance search and searched for two main phrases consisting of sexual harassment at work and another that consisted of workplace stress. To ensure that I was only browsing academic journals, I chose to browse only the documents that fell under the category of scholarly journals. This helped me find one item (Chelsea R. Willness, et al. 2007) which is included in the digest. I also found various resources which I used for a deeper understanding of the subject. For additional resources, I referred to the unit guide for a list of preferred data bases and decided to try out the Web of Knowledge database. However, it wasn’t as helpful as Proquest and as suggested in the guide, I used the Google scholar search engine next and thus, got my second paper (Barling, et al. 1996) as well as several books that I have referred to. To search for a non academic paper, I searched the news on Google, CNN, BBC and Gulf News as well as newspapers and magazines listed on Proquest. I finally found an interesting article in The New York Times (Sara Corbett, 2007) which was relevant to the topic.

(261 words)

ITEM 1 (PEER - REVIEWED)

Chelsea R. Willness, Piers Steel, Kibeom Lee, 2007, ‘A Meta-Analysis of the Antecedents and Consequences of Workplace Sexual Harassment’, Journal of Personnel Psychology, vol.60, pp. 127–162: www.proquest.com (accessed September 22, 2010).

Summary

This paper is a meta-analysis that includes data from 41 studies and 70,000 respondents and outlines the ill effects of sexual harassment on an employee. It also studies the organizational climate and lays emphasis on the point that sexual harassment is more prominent in organizations where mistreatment is common along with skewed gender ratios. The major consequence of sexual harassment is workplace stress which takes a toll on the employee’s professional and personal life. Stress affects the physiological and psychological well being of an employee. Victims suffer from reduced self esteem and a general sense of discomfort in their workplace. Severe emotional setback leads to symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder such as painful flashbacks and sleep disturbances. It lowers concentration levels as victims suffer from palpitations, nausea and frequent headaches. Stress due to sexual harassment affects the job satisfaction and commitment of an employee. This leads to increased absenteeism, shunning of work and also withdrawal from the organization which in turn has a severe effect on the productivity of the employee.

(172 words)

Critical Evaluation

As this paper is a vast composition of various studies, its assimilation is time consuming. Writing some of the findings in layman’s terms would have made it an easier read. Nevertheless, it provides a well rounded approach on workplace sexual harassment, studying not only the consequences but also its perpetrators. By proving organizational climate as the main cause, it lists certain preventive measures as well as emphasizes that sexual harassment is largely within the control of the organization and factors such as tilted male to female ratios must not be overlooked. The study also mentioned certain interesting facts like the growing percentage of men who face sexual harassment at work. However there exists a lack of research in this particular area. Another noteworthy contribution of this study is that it differs between the sexual traumas of women in military services as opposed to women employees in the corporate sector. Further on, proving facts contrary to popular belief, like stressors are often not superiors but indeed co-workers, helps in establishing a deeper understanding of the topic.

(175 words)

ITEM 2 (PEER - REVIEWED)

Julian Barling, Inez Dekker, Catherine Loughlin, E. Kevin Kelloway, and Clive Fullagar, 1996, ‘Prediction and Replication of the Organizational and Personal Consequences of Workplace Sexual Harassment’, Journal of Managerial Psychology 11, vol. 5, pp. 4-25: http://web.business.queensu.ca (accessed September 21, 2010).

Summary

This paper is a study, the sampling of which consists of men and women from Canada as well as women from USA. It elucidates on how sexual harassment leads to negative moods which in turn affects sexual trauma and increases work place stress. It emphasis on the fact that recurrence of sexual harassment plays a role in determining the consequences that follow. Recurrence of the event leads to increased stress levels that have a severe effect on the negative mood of an employee. The negative mood results in withdrawal from the organization and has a disastrous impact on employee turnover. It increases individual job dissatisfaction meaning that it strains relationships between the victim and the co-worker or supervisor. Various psychosomatic illnesses like gastric problems and sleep disturbances are also grave consequences of sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment also results in cognitive distraction that affects job concentration. The study also elucidates on how men and women react differently to sexual harassment. Men often refrain from reporting such situations due to fear of demoralization and many a times are less sensitive than females to sexual harassment.

(184 words)

Critical Evaluation

The paper primarily describes the effect of recurring sexual harassment and identifies the nature of harassment as a subjective one. However, it did not seem comprehensive enough and more variables would have enhanced the quality of the paper. Yet, it identifies gender differences in experiencing workplace sexual harassment and considers men as victims providing an insight as to how men perceive and respond to such situations. Also, it sheds light on how organizations could limit cases of sexual harassment and thereby control employee turnover. The paper also labels the consequences as “psychosomatic” implying that victims keep believing that they suffer from certain symptoms when actually it is, indeed, the mental trauma taking a toll on the individual’s state of mind. It relates workplace stress to not only individual job performances but also to the organizational performance and outlines similarities between how sexual harassment affects grade performances of students and work performances of employee in the similar manner.

(157 words)

ITEM 3 (MEDIA ARTICLE)

Sara Corbett, 2007, the Women’s War, the New York Times, March 19: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/magazine/18cover.html?pagewanted=all

(Accessed September 25, 2010)

Summary

This article provides a deep insight into the lives of women soldiers in U.S.A. Often treated as objects of desire; they were sexually tormented and subjected to constant ridicule. The war veterans suffered from severe PTSD as they grappled through the tough environment and battled with sexual harassment. Corbett (2007) presents the famous case of Suzanne Swift along with experiences of other female veterans who continuously suffered in the male dominated environment. Swift who abandoned her troop and was charged for absence without leave (AWOL), kept away from the military base for eight months. She had begun to hate her work, had become emotionally numb, was turning into an insomniac and refused to be a part of the military. Swift was indeed showing the classic symptoms of PTSD. It resulted in her performance being affected as she resorted to absenteeism and lost focus which isn’t ideal when one is engaged in a serious task on the battlefield. Instances such as not dealing seriously with complaints and punishing those who reported such incidences, led women soldiers to believe that their presence was merely to satiate the innate needs of the men. Several other victims stated that they lost their self confidence, have contemplated suicide and have ended being treated for PTSD due to instances, which they claim, ruined their career.

(219 words)

Critical Analysis

This article was comprehensive, well written and served as an eye opener. In a country that is the epitome of democracy, the occurrence of such cruel acts seemed unlikely until the last few years. The report was credible as it not only consisted of quotes from the victims but also the expert opinions of psychiatrists. Certain interesting facts made the article more informative. For instance, the article states how soldiers in Vietnam would frequent brothels but while deployed in Iraq resorted to assaulting their female co-workers. Thus, the article adopted a bold tone, which I believe would inspire any reader from any field of work to take a strong stance against sexual harassment in a bid to prevent their job performance from hitting dismal levels while attempting to maintain their dignity.

(131 words)

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

All three papers discussed the antecedents and disastrous effects of workplace stress due to sexual harassment. One of the biggest perpetrators of corporate sexual harassment is the climate of the organization. Paper 1 stresses on the need for gender ratio alignment and increasing management guidance. Sexual harassment, aggressiveness and violence are usually present in an environment which is male dominated whereas female dominated environment manifest “nurturance” and “passivity” (Barbara Gutek, Aaron Cohen, 1987). The second paper elucidates on the consequences of a hostile work environment and suggests that employees must individually work on changing such an environment. However, sexual harassment gives rise to negative moods and emotions and thus altering the workplace ambience turn into a mammoth task. The third article however, describes an already hostile environment and how it is worsened due to sexual harassment. Studies report that although a steady decline has been found in the sexual harassment of female soldiers in the last two decades, the numbers once again begin to rise steadily during wartime (Jade Lamb, 2007). Psychologists argue that this can be blamed on the human nature which is especially evident in a male dominant atmosphere. However, to contradict the findings that suggest sexual harassment is on the decline, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article shedding light on how sexual harassment has become weirder and scarier (Susan Antilla, 2010). A boss pulling down an employee’s pants in front of her co-workers, another CEO pinning an employee with his leg on her breast and replacing the water in her bottle with semen is just the beginning of how peculiar sexual harassment is getting. Antilla, a coloumnist for Bloomsberg News, suggests not believing in the reducing number of complaints as employees often hesitate to report such shameful acts that leave the victims stripped of every ounce of dignity that they possess.

The papers also outline the consequences of stress on the victim’s professional life. Being a victim of sexual harassment may result in the denial of equal opportunities. The victim may be turned down for a promotion or given rather difficult tasks. Sometimes, victims are transferred away from their social support systems. A case of sexual harassment can also have an adverse effect on the employee’s track records and references (Mary Boland, 2002). Job stress, increased dissatisfaction and absence of commitment to work affect the productivity of the employee. The second and third papers prove that recurrence of the harassment strengthens the intention of quitting the organization. Emotional trauma such as depression, anxiety, crying spells, humiliation and alienation are some of the psychosocial consequences of sexual harassment (Charney, Russell, 1997). However, paper two suggests a difference in the perception and response to sexual harassment between men and women. While women get affected easily, men many a times may not even recognize the intention as sexual in nature. Their level of emotional trauma and stress too varies to a great extent. Women are three times more likely than men to perceive sexual harassment as problem (Mueller, et al. 2001).

The three papers also contrast to some extent on the content that is researched. While the first research paper concentrates on proving all the antecedents and consequences of sexual harassment, the second paper emphasis more on the stress and negativity that arises due to such sexual trauma. The first paper concentrates only on women but the second paper includes both the genders. However, it stresses more on the ill effects that female employees experience as the victims are usually of this sex. The third paper on the other hand, is a case study of female war veterans and exposes the sexual harassment that is inflicted on them by their male co-workers. It is indeed proven that a female is more likely to experience sexual trauma from a soldier rather than dying due to an enemy’s bullet.

The papers however lacked in two fields of studies namely same sex sexual harassment at work and differences between quid pro quo harassment and harassment due to hostile working environments. This, I believe, would have further enhanced the quality of all three papers. Same sex harassment today is steadily rising with people coming out about their sexuality. The EEOC has reported that complaints pertaining same sex sexual harassment have doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent between 1982-2002 (Krista Gesaman, 2010). Sexual harassment can also be classified into two types. Quid pro quo harassment takes place when a superior demands sexual favours in return for a promotion, a raise in salary or for not punishing or firing an employee. Hostile work environment leads to sexual harassment when the victim is subjected to sexual photographs, demeaning jokes and threats (Reuters, 2009). The consequences and level of trauma differ for both and the papers should have included these differences along with the definition.

Working on this assignment has taught me to identify sexual harassment as well as to effectively cope with it. It also has taught me how to identify segregate points and data amongst a vast plethora of information that is available on this topic. This research digest effectively sums up the nature of sexual harassment and its grave consequences on ones professional and personal life. It also lists the causes of harassment and how they can be avoided. Sexual harassment is one of the primary factors of work place stress. In the field of organizational behaviour and management, where employees are held as the asset of the organization, it is best to eliminate activities, such as sexual harassment, that torment the employees. This research digest thus, serves as a vital piece of information to every organization as it contains relevant data about the causes of sexual harassment and its ill effects on the employee and the organization.

(955 words)

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