743 million people suffer workplace violence globally – ILO

About 743 million people suffer workplace violence and harassment, a global survey released on Monday found.

This number represents 22.8 per cent of the world’s population and more than one in five people who experience at least one form of workplace violence.

Titled ‘Experiences of Violence and Harassment at Work: A global first survey’, the survey found that workplace violence and harassment take different forms including physical, psychological, and sexual.

It looks at the factors that may prevent people from talking about their experiences, including shame, guilt, a lack of trust in institutions, or because such unacceptable behaviours are seen as “normal.”

The survey, which is the first of its kind, is a joint analysis by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and Gallup.

Infographic of workplace violence – Photo Credit: ILO

According to the survey, violence and harassment at work cause harm to individuals, families, businesses and societies. It affects people’s lives, dignity, health and well-being. It also exacerbates inequality in societies and undermines business productivity.

“There should be no place for and no tolerance of violence and harassment at work – anywhere. To prevent and address it effectively, we need to know it better. We need to know which types of violence and harassment at work are more prevalent and where, and who is more exposed to it and why,” the survey said, underscoring its importance.

The Survey

Roughly 125,000 interviews were conducted in 121 countries and territories, gathering information regarding people’s experiences of violence and harassment at work.

The interviews were conducted in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the World Risk Poll.

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Interviews in 62 countries were done by telephone and the other 52 were done in person.

Frequency of violence

Violence and harassment at work are widespread and recurrent phenomena around the world, the survey says.

It revealed that among people who had experienced violence and harassment at work, about one-third (31.8 per cent) said they had experienced more than one form, with 6.3 per cent having faced all three forms in their working life.

More than three in five victims of workplace violence said they have had multiple experiences, and for the majority of them, the last incident took place within the last five years.

Physical violence

Nearly one in ten (8.5 per cent or 277 million) persons in employment have experienced physical violence and harassment at work in their working life, with men more likely to report it than women.

Psychological violence

Psychological violence and harassment was the most common form of violence and harassment reported by both men and women, with nearly one in five (17.9 per cent or 583 million) people in employment experiencing it in their working life.

Sexual violence

One in fifteen (6.3 per cent or 205 million) people in employment have experienced sexual violence and harassment at work in their working life. Women were particularly exposed to sexual violence and harassment at work.

The data showed the largest gender difference by far (8.2 per cent of women and 5.0 per cent of men). Women suffered more sexual violence and harassment than physical and psychological.

Who is more exposed to discrimination?
Data from the survey show that certain demographic groups are at risk of experiencing violence and harassment at work.

“Youth, migrant, and wage and salaried women and men were more likely to face violence and harassment at work, and this can be particularly true among women,” it said.

For instance, the results show that young women were twice as likely as young men to have experienced sexual violence and harassment, and migrant women were almost twice as likely as non‑migrant women to report sexual violence and harassment.

Also, persons who have experienced discrimination at some point in their life on the basis of gender, disability status, nationality/ethnicity, skin colour and/or religion were more likely to have experienced workplace violence than those who did not face such discrimination.

Also, nearly five in ten people who have been victims of gender-based discrimination have also faced workplace violence, compared to two in ten of those who have not been discriminated against on the basis of gender.

Reporting workplace violence a waste of time
Many believe that reporting a case of violence or harassment is a “waste of time” and harmful to their reputation.

These two factors topped the list of barriers discouraging
people from talking about their own experiences of violence and harassment at work.

Other factors include unclear procedures at work; lack of trust in the police, community leaders or labour inspectors; worry that people would find out about it at work; did not know what to do; and fear of punishment.

Many victims of such violence find it difficult to speak to anyone about their experiences and when they do, they tell mostly family or friends.

“Only slightly more than half (54.4 per cent) of victims have shared their experience with someone, and often only after they have experienced more than one form of violence and harassment. People were also more likely to tell friends or family, rather than using other informal or formal channels,” the survey found.

Regional difference
Working class in high-income countries registered the highest prevalence of workplace violence, and low and lower-middle-income countries had the lowest prevalence, both over the entirety of working life and in the past five years.

Data from the survey showed that the Americas registered the highest prevalence rate at 34.3 per cent.

Africa is in second place with 25.7 per cent. Europe and Central Asia were in third place with 25.5 per cent; Asia and the Pacific with 19.2 per cent and the Arab States recorded the least workplace violence with 13.6 per cent.

Interestingly, women in high-income countries were more likely to experience workplace violence and harassment compared to their male counterparts at 38.7 per cent and 26.3 per cent respectively.

In the Americas, women were more likely than men to have experienced violence and harassment in their working life (39.0 per cent versus 30.8 per cent), followed by Europe and Central Asia (8.0 percentage points) and the Arab States (5.9 percentage points).

Conversely, in both upper-middle-income countries and low and lower-middle-income countries, men were more likely than women to experience violence and harassment in their working life (by 5.9 percentage points and 1.0 percentage points, respectively).

In Asia and the Pacific and in Africa, men were more likely than women to have such an experience, both in their working life and within the past five years (by 3.2 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points, respectively).

“It’s painful to learn that people face violence and harassment not just once but multiple times in their working lives,” said Manuela Tomei, ILO Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue.

“Psychological violence and harassment is the most prevalent across countries and women are particularly exposed to sexual violence and harassment. The report tells us about the enormity of the task ahead to end violence and harassment in the world of work. I hope it will expedite action on the ground and towards the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 190,” she said.


The 0Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Sarah Cumbers, notes that “to tackle global safety challenges as difficult and deep-rooted as violence and harassment at work, it is critical to have good data to understand the extent of the problem and to identify those most at risk, especially in places where little reliable data may have existed previously.”

The survey recommended regular collection of robust data on violence and harassment at work, at national, regional and global levels, to inform prevention and remediation laws and mechanisms, policies and programmes, and research and advocacy.

It also recommended updated mechanisms to effectively prevent and manage violence and harassment in the world of work, including through labour inspection systems and occupational safety and health policies and programmes.

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It recommended increased awareness of violence and harassment at work, including its different manifestations, with a view to changing perceptions, stigmas, attitudes and behaviours that can perpetuate violence and harassment, particularly those based on discrimination.

It also recommended enhancing the capacity of institutions at all levels to deliver effective prevention, remediation and support, to build people’s trust in justice and ensure victims are supported.

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