Survey: Employees say harassment goes unreported more than HR professionals do

Even after the #MeToo movement has made sexual workplace harassment a national conversation, there’s still a sharp divide between the number of incidents and what actually gets reported to Human Resources. That’s the main finding that a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management found.

76% of employees who experienced sexual harassment at work said they did not report it

The survey of 500 HR professionals and 1,200 employees who are not managers, found that there is still a long way to go before every employee feels empowered enough to share their story of harassment at work. While HR professionals had a more optimistic view of HR harassment policies, other employees showed less faith in trusting that the system would protect them.

Fifty-seven percent of the HR employees said that unreported sexual harassment incidents occurred to a “small extent” at their company. Meanwhile, the number of incidents that employees are reporting — 76% of employees who experienced sexual harassment in the last year said they did not report it — shows that harassment is a much more widespread, unreported problem.

Verbal harassment, including unwanted advances made through words, was the most common form of sexual harassment employees faced. The reasons employees gave for not reporting the harassment included a fear of retaliation and a belief that little or nothing would change if they came forward. SHRM’s survey aligns with other research that has found that victims of workplace harassment often have their experience minimized by other colleagues. As one person in the 2016 survey wrote about her experience: “Went to HR about sexist and flirty CEO. Told to put up with it as I’m ‘young and pretty and they’re men, what do you expect?’ ”

When employees avoid reporting to HR, they are signaling that they do not trust management to put the interest of the employee before the interest of a company’s bottom-lime. And even HR professionals acknowledge that this is a fair critique of HR’s role.

“Employees have every right, in some companies, to look at HR as a tool of management, not as an advocate of employees,” David Lewis, who worked in HR for 31 years, told Bloomberg News. “You can’t get around the fact that HR reports to management.”