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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fighting sexual harassment at work

In today's corporate environment, its inhabitants are put under various kinds of pressures. Arshie Chevalwala speaks to experts about one such nuisance, sexual harassment

Effects of sexual harassment can vary depending on the individuality or personality of the recipient, and the severity and duration of the harassment. Often, sexual harassment incidents fall into the category of the "merely annoying." In other situations harassment may lead to temporary or prolonged stress and/ or depression depending on the recipient's psychological abilities to cope up with it, and the social support or lack of it for the recipient. Victims who do not submit to harassment may also experience various forms of retaliation, including isolation and bullying.

"Coping with harassment at work is a very stressful task. What really helps is support from the management. It is vital that companies provide a nurturing environment where victims feel confident enough to approach them and report an instance," suggest Rupa Dutta (name changed), an employee who was subject to harassment at work.

Dr. Arvind Gupta, consultant psychiatrist, Max Hospital talks about the common effects on the victims. He says, "Some of the psychological and health effects that can occur are depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks, sleeplessness and/or nightmares, shame and guilt, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue or loss of motivation, stomach problems, eating disorders (weight loss or gain), alcoholism, feeling betrayed and/or violated, feeling angry or violent towards the perpetrator, feeling powerless or out of control, increased blood pressure, loss of confidence and self esteem, withdrawal and isolation, overall loss of trust in people, traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide."

Common psychological, professional, financial, and social effects of sexual harassment and retaliation pointed out by Dr. Gupta are:

- Psychological stress and health impairment
- Decreased work performance as a result of stress conditions; increased absenteeism in fear of harassment repetition
- Firing and refusal for a job opportunity can lead to loss of job or career, loss of income;
- Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip
- Defamation of character and reputation
- Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred
- Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or his or her colleagues, especially in case they are not supportive, difficulties or stress on peer relationships

Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles ( friends, colleagues, or family may distance themselves from the victim, or shun him or her altogether). Thus, sexual harassment is a known menace of today's corporate environment and employers are taking active measure to prevent and contain bad behavior. Pragya Kumar, HR head at concurs, "Sexual harassment is one of the key employee grievances today and knows no gender bar. Corporates must conduct annual workshops and regular training sessions for the employees wherein they are taught the importance of maintaining a congenial working environment, keeping it a safe, happy and secured one. We ensure a close monitoring of the work places and a free and transparent interaction with manager and as well at the employee level in order to keep a tap on the decorum. To keep a complete check on such issues cropping up at the workplace, we have incorporated policies that ensure an environment that is conducive for the growth of our employees in every aspect."

Steps to prevent sexual harassment 
- Get high-level management support Obtain high-level support from the chief executive officer and senior management for implementing a comprehensive strategy to address sexual harassment.

- Write and implement a sexual harassment policy

- Develop a written policy, which prohibits sexual harassment in consultation with staff and relevant unions.

- Ensure that managers and supervisors discuss and reinforce the policy at staff meetings. Verbal communication of the policy is particularly important in workplaces where the literacy of staff may be an issue.

- Periodically review the policy to ensure it is operating effectively and contains up-to-date information. (c) Provide regular training and information on sexual harassment to all staff and management

- Conduct regular training sessions for all staff and management on sexual harassment and the organisational policy. This training should be behaviourally based which means it should increase knowledge and understanding of specific behaviours that may amount to sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act. Regular refresher training is recommended.
Source : The Times of India, Sept 27, 2012

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