Human Resources in Organizations


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The issue of sexual harassment in the work place has attracted a lot of controversy and ambiguity. However, sexual harassment affects the emotional wellbeing, morale and general performance of the employees. Therefore, sexual harassment in the workplace is a major concern to any management that seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the workers in the work place. Sexual harassment has various cultural, behavioral and social effects on the workers. The management also risks implications of losses emanating from sexual harassment related lawsuits. These include monetary awards from sexually harassed claimants, which have been increasing across countries. Sexual harassment has also led to decreased productivity and increased sick leave being taken by employees. Therefore, it is imperative for the organization to understand the various costs related to sexual harassment to be able to devise preventive measures that can be put in place to reduce or ultimately eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace (Marshall 2005).

This paper seeks to define the concept of sexual harassment, and its impact on business practices.

Perspectives of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace affects mainly women and less common in men. There are many different perspective of sexual harassment but this paper seeks to explore the broad perspective of micro and macro perspective of sexual harassment. In the macro perspective, organization behavior, anthropology and sociology will be examined. It will focus on personal correlation and various mechanisms through which sexual harassment occurs. However, sexual harassment is diverse and can attract different interpretations based on the region or vary from one organization to the other. Sexual harassment in micro perspective can be explained in terms of perceptions, where different conducts in different organizations are perceived as sexual harassment while in other organizations such conduct will not be perceived as sexual harassment. This brings the issue of ambiguity in what constitutes an act of sexual harassment. Therefore, for the act of sexual harassment to be defined as so it will depend on the observer and the victim frame of reference (Franke 1997).

The micro perspective of sexual harassment can also be explained in terms of a biological model. This model holds that sexual harassment occurs when men are unable to control their sex drive in the normal setting of the organization. This model also states that men have greater sex drive than women and therefore, sexual harassment occurs when men are unable to control their sex drive. In addition to the micro perspective of sexual harassment, it can be explained in terms of organization’s setting. This explanation states that in most of the organizations there is unequal distribution of power based on gender. There are different attributes given to women and men in organizations. Men are traditionally perceived to be managers in the organization while the women are perceived to take the role of sectary in the normal setting of the organization. These roles given to men and women attribute men to be more powerful than women in the context of organization. Therefore, sexual harassment may constitute exaggeration of the stereotyped roles in the organization. Traditionally men were attributed with aggressiveness while the women were expected to remain submissive and passive. In the family the man has a higher status as the head of the family, while the woman is perceived to be his subject; this has been replicated in the working place, and the working place has been perceived by men as an arena to compete sexually. Women have perceived these sexual advances by men as a threat or a potential threat in the working place (Skaine 1996).

Another micro perspective of sexual harassment in the working place is the social cultural explanation where men are perceived to have more power than women do. According to this explanation, the existing disparities between men and women access social, economic and political spheres and generally are maintained in all settings, even in organizations. According to this explanation, women are more likely to be harassed if they are young and unmarried or divorced. Educated women also experience sexual harassment more often than women who are not educated. This is because educated women are more sensitive and more likely to perceive a certain conduct as sexual harassment than relatively less educated women are. Ethnicity and race is an important factor in defining sexual harassment. This is because marginalized groups are perceived to be more vulnerable culturally, economically and politically. Women from marginalized groups are more likely to experience sexual harassment. For example, black women are more likely to experience sexual harassment than white women are. The micro perspective of sexual harassment can also be extended into perspective of distribution of men and women in particular jobs, occupations and organization structure. If distribution of men to women is skewed in these jobs and occupations in the organization structure, there are higher chances of experiencing sexual harassment in these jobs and occupations. For example, if the number of women outnumbers the number of men, the job or the occupation receives a feminine status and women are treated as incumbents rather fellow-employees (KöLKENBECK 2003).

Personal characteristics and mechanisms through which sexual harassment are done are used to analyze the macro perspective of sexual harassment. The macro perspective centers on analyzing the actual form of sexual harassment, which the victims are subjected to. Sexual harassment is equated to other forms of harassment in the society; this is due to the fact that women perceive subordinate positions in the society. Male dominance and cultural approval of violence can also be attributed to the sexual harassment in the work place due to sexual objectification of women (Marshall 2005).

Sexual harassment was introduced first in the USA, which was the first country to develop a mechanism to prevent it. According to international labor organization (ILO), there is no conclusive definition of sexual harassment. This has led to the increase of ambiguity of what constitutes a conduct, which can be termed as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may not be recognized immediately by those who observe or experience it; this creates confusion and difficulty of what conduct may constitute sexual harassment to the management. This hampers efforts of management in managing and prevention of sexual harassment. There is no single comprehensive and precise definition of sexual harassment. However, different regions have defined sexual harassment in different ways (Reeves 2010). For example, in the European community and the US, the elements of sexual harassment constitute verbal behaviors, offensive physical behavior and promise of rewards or punishments. These elements may be used solely to define sexual harassment or the broad definition may be used. This broad definition of sexual harassment may include any offensive behaviors of a sexual nature. These behaviors include staring, touching and pinching which are non-reciprocated and unsolicited. The proposed definition of sexual harassment defines it as any physical conduct direct or indirect, unwanted verbal or visual conducts, which are sexual in nature, are offensive to the recipient, and are perceived to create hostility in the working environment. The conducts are designed to advance sexual favors by the recipient with a promise of a benefit or a gift or a threat for non-compliance such as sacking (Ortega et al 2010).

Sexual harassment is broadly categorized into sexual blackmail and harassment, which may create hostility in the working environment. The two categories provide a framework upon which sexual harassment is categorized in the working environment. However, the two categories may overlap each other where they may exist simultaneously (Kölkenbeck 2003). In sexual blackmail, there are tangible employment actions while in offensive harassment there may be no tangible employment actions. The sexual blackmail harassment arise when a workmate probably the seniors i.e. managers demand sexual activities in return of benefits in the working environment like promotions, increased pay, reduced working hours. Offensive sexual harassment arises when the unwanted conduct persists to severity creating hostile working environment. Sexual harassment cases may be mild or severe; a mild case may include verbal innuendoes and staring while the extreme case may involve grabbing, raping. The Australian Discrimination Act of 1991 described sexual harassment as any offensive physical act sexual in nature, unsolicited remarks and proposition about a person’s sex life (McDonald 2012).

Impacts of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment leads to the adverse consequences to both the organization and the victim of sexual harassment. These consequences to the organization may lead to financial losses due to payment of damages arising from legal suits of the victims of sexual harassment (Franke 1997). The cost associated with sexual harassment to the organization is detrimental to the organization performance and productivity of workers in the working environment. Sexual harassment increases absenteeism of the workers. This includes the increased sick leave requested by workers. The increase in absenteeism can be attributed to the poor working environment due to increased hostility. Sexual harassment reduces the productivity of the employees in the working environment (Berger & Huntington 2002). This can be attributed to the decreased morale and performance of the employees, which have detrimental consequences on the performance of the organization (Kölkenbeck 2003). Sexual harassment also increases the workers’ turnover in the firm. This is because of the hostility in the working environment, which increases the workers’ dissatisfaction and increased desire to move to a better working environment. Sexual harassment also increases the branch and departmental transfers in the organization due to the hostility arising from the working environment. The organization is not also able to pay full attention to the productive activities of the organization since it is constantly solving problems related to the workers like legal suits, medical attention to the sick employees and replacement of the employees due to increased turnover. The organization’s teamwork building is also dismantled by sexual harassment; this is due to the increased hostility between the workers to facilitate the development of strong teams. The image of the company is also damaged and the public opinion about the company is poor. This may cause indirect losses to the company as the pubic forms the customer base of the organization and with the damaged image and negative public opinion, sales of the organization’s services and product may plummet. The shareholders may also lose confidence with the organization management. This may hamper the organization’s policy formulation and decision making which may be strategic to the growth of the organization (Gerdes 1999). Therefore, the costs and consequences of sexual harassment to the organization performance, efficiency and ultimately the profitability are detrimental and the organization should put the necessary measures to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment. Victims of sexual harassment are affected psychologically; in addition, they are unable to perform their tasks efficiently due to the reduced motivation (Ward 2006). Sexual harassment also reduces the workers’ self-confidence and increases the job dissatisfaction. The health condition of victims of sexual harassment also deteriorates and increases the disease prevalence of the workers due to exposure to many risks such as stress (Gerdes 1999).


The concept of sexual harassment in the working environment traces its origins to the USA. However, there is no conclusive, precise and comprehensive internationally agreed definition of sexual harassment due to the broad and ambiguous interpretation of sexual harassment. However, a proposal has been made as to an internationally recognized definition of sexual harassment. There are two perspective of sexual harassment, which are the micro perspective and the macro perspective. Sexual harassment has also been categorized into blackmail harassment and the offensive harassment. Sexual harassment has adverse consequences to the organization and to the victim. The general efficiency and profitability of the organization decreases with increased cases of sexual harassment, while the employees are affected psychologically and physically.

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