Young European women nearly four times more likely to face workplace sexual harassment than men

European women aged 18-34 are nearly four times more likely to experience unwanted sexual attention in the workplace compared with men of the same age, and 10 times more than men over 50, according to a new research.

The analysis, carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), looked into adverse social behaviour at work, including bullying, harassment, violence, verbal abuse or threats, and unwanted sexual attention.

It found the latter to be even more acute for frontline workers , especially employees who deal directly with customers.

On average, close to 13 per cent of workers in the EU experienced some form of “adverse social behaviour” at work in 2021. However, the share of female victims is consistently higher than males.

Share of men and women reporting adverse social behaviour in the workplace

Among those who reported having experienced some form of adverse social behaviour, 14.6 per cent were women compared with 10.8 per cent of men.

Compared to 10.8 per cent of men, 14.6 per cent of women report having experienced some form of adverse social behaviour.

Similarly, 10.3 per cent of women reported being victims of verbal abuse or threats, versus 8.4 per cent of men.

When asked whether they’d experienced bullying, harassment and violence, women respondents also ranked higher in the likelihood scale. But the share is smaller compared with other violent behaviour: 6.8 per cent of women and 5. 1 of men.

Likewise, 2.9 per cent of female workers reported unwanted sexual attention, compared with 0.8 per cent of men.

Whether it is being touched without permission, causing fear, alarm or distress sexual name calling or harassment, rape and sexual assault: the risk is particularly higher for young woman (18–34 years).

Females in this age group report these incidents 3.6 times more often than men of the same age, and 10 times more than the oldest group of men (50+ years).

The sexual burden decreases with age, women aged 50+ are 3.5 times less likely to report unwanted sexual attention than women aged 18–34 (1.6 per cent compared with 5.6 per cent).

The Eurofond analysis, which was based on the 2021 European Working Conditions Telephone Survey (EWCTS), found that overall, it is frontline workers are most exposed, and hence more likely to experience the consequences of adverse social behaviour at work, such as burnout, exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

People who deal with customers are twice more likely to experience adverse social behaviour at work compared to those who don’t. The most affected are health professionals, who are three times more likely to receive unwanted sexual attention than the EU average (5.7 per cent compared with 1.7 per cent).

Likewise, both healthcare and protective services workers (including firefighters, police officers, prison and security guards) reported two to three times higher rates of bullying, harassment and violence, compared with the EU average.

Verbal abuse or threats is the most common form of adverse social behaviour directed towards frontline workers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, particularly grave among protective services workers, 22.6 per cent of them report being victims of threats or verbal abuse, followed by health associate professionals (20.2 per cent) and health professionals (16.9 per cent).

Eurofound warns that adverse social behaviour at work poses a significant risk to workers’ health and well-being.

People who report adverse social behaviour in the workplace are around three times more likely to experience physical and emotional burnout (32 per cent compared to 10 per cent) and emotional exhaustion (40 per cent compared to 14 per cent), and almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety (53 per cent compared to 27 per cent) or be at risk of depression (38 per cent compared to 20 per cent).


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