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The Effects of Harassment in the Workplace

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A 2007 Zogby International survey found that 37% of workers--approximately 54 million people--reported bullying at work. Whether general bullying or discrimination based upon sex, race or other legally protected characteristics, there is no doubt that any form of harassment in the workplace is inappropriate and detrimental. The effects of harassment in the workplace coalesce to create a pervasively hostile environment that significantly damages productivity.

Emotional Effects

Chief amongst the effects of harassment - and impediments to productivity - are the emotional effects of such behavior. According to Psychology Today, effects of workplace harassment can include fear, anxiety, depression and possibly even symptoms mimicking those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder.

The occurrence of these types of emotional issues as part of a person's professional life is not only troubling morally, but it is against the company's best interest. Those who experience these effects often turn to absenteeism or leaving the workplace for one that does not result in such emotional turbulence.

Other Effects

Other than emotional effects, issues that occur due to harassment may also affect company success. A study conducted at the University of Illinois found that sexual harassment and generalized workplace harassment were related to increased odds of illness, injury, or assault. This was found to be true irrespective of other workplace stressors.

Moreover, issues such as harassment are troublesome in the sense that they directly disrupt the successful functioning of a workplace. Simple principles of the workplace dictate the need for teamwork, cooperation, and positive interaction. In a hostile work environment this cannot occur, and for this reason, all individuals in the workplace, and the work it produces, can suffer.

Legal Implications

Not only is workplace harassment a disruptive problem, it is an illegal one. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 establishes that unwelcome verbal or physical contact based upon personal characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or as retaliation is illegal.

Depending upon the severity of the harassment in question and other personal factors, an individual may choose to deal with the issue through legal channels such as personal legal action or a complaint with the Employment Equal Opportunity commission. Furthermore, many companies have procedures in place for dealing with complaints within organizational channels to avoid resorting to outside avenues of resolution, such as legal action. In either case, it is wise to keep copies of all written communications.


In a litigious society, it is not uncommon for legal action to be pursued on the basis of workplace harassment. Needless to say, this type of litigation has numerous negative effects upon the workplace in addition to those caused by the initial harassment.

It is essential that members of a workplace remain aware of the established regulations governing workplace behavior and report any violation thereof. Those who report allegations of harassment are legally protected from retaliative action. With the knowledge of the many effects of harassment, we should all increase our efforts to avoid it and to address it promptly when it does occur.


Nicole Thorpe has been a freelance writer since 2007, writing primarily for private companies/clients. She also contributes to various online publications, specializing in the areas of health, business and ethics. Thorpe's educational background includes B.S. degrees in nursing and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

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