Harassed While WFH

By Sushma Veera

Singapore, Oct 8: For many the work-from-home (WFH) arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be a temporary shelter away from unsavoury workplace behaviours, but the heightened digital connection during this time meant that employees can still be susceptible to sexual harassment.
A recent survey by Milieu Insight found that workers in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines had encountered some form of workplace sexual harassment in the past five years.
Milieu Insight Chief Operations Officer Stephen Tracy said the study was aimed to better understand whether the shift to ‘mostly’ working-from-home over the last two years has had an impact on the frequency or nature of incidents of sexual harassment for workers across Southeast Asia.
“The survey reported that views about what constitutes sexual harassment varied slightly across the different countries, where workers in Singapore were most likely to view unsolicited emails or text messages of a sexual nature as a form of sexual harassment (80 per cent), compared to just 50 per cent for workers in Thailand, or 65 per cent of workers in Malaysia,” he said.
The company surveyed 1,000 working professionals per country, across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
The survey also received mixed responses when respondents were asked to reflect whether incidents of sexual harassment has become more or less common with WFH arrangements, with the results indicating that there is a larger fall in offline sexual harassment than online sexual harassment, except for the Philippines where there seem to be a net increase in both.
Additionally, Tracy said the high rate of respondents indicating “prefer not to say”, might suggest sensitivities around reporting on these types of issues or even a lack of awareness and understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.
“These results reinforce our points that there is still much to be done when it comes to workplace policies against sexual harassment. The onslaught of the pandemic has also turned work arrangements upside down, requiring employers to rethink and revamp the way companies function.”
“At the same time, companies ought to prepare for the new ways that problems present themselves, keeping employee well-being at its core,” he said.

Among the key findings of the survey are: 

  • Victims most commonly turn to their friends to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment at work, with less seeking assistance from co-workers or the authorities. In Thailand, more males than their female counterparts would report to their managers or the human resource department.
  • Twenty five per cent in Singapore and almost one-third of Thai-based victims indicated that nothing happened after they reported such an incident and it’s more common for females to report nothing being done than males.
  • Sixty per cent of respondents across all countries surveyed indicated that they feel safe enough to report a sexual harassment incident. Those who had experienced incidents of sexual harassment were more likely to indicate they did not feel safe reporting such cases. 
  • Seventy three percent of managers in Malaysia, Thailand (81 per cent) and Philippines (80 per cent) think that they are well-equipped to tackle incidents when they are reported to them, but in Singapore, only 55 per cent feel the same.

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