Are Millennials responsible for the increase in harassment claims?

Younger workers may equal more harassment in the workplace for a variety of reasons.
Younger workers may equal more harassment in the workplace for a variety of reasons.

In a report put out by the EEOC they purport that there has been an increase in harassment in the workplace and that it remains a persistent problem. Harassment is up in all areas from sexual harassment to age harassment. They provide a number of reasons for why they think this problem exists. I will look at those reasons and see if they support my question in the title of this post.

Risk factors

The report says there are twelve risk factors that increase the chances that harassment will occur. It does say that the presence of any single risk factor does not mean that harassment exists, but the likelihood is increased if risk factors are present.
Here are the risk factors:

  1. Homogenous Workforces– where diversity is low the chance of harassment goes up. Think Silicon Valley.
  2. Workplaces Where Some Workers Do Not Conform to Workplace Norms– the example given in the report is a male acting feminine in a largely male workplace. Think about the increasing emphasis on multi-gender workplaces.
  3. Cultural and Language Differences in the Workplace– This is certainly ripe for cultural and country of origin discrimination. Think immigration here.
  4. Coarsened Social Discourse Outside the Workplace- The report says “…coarse social discourse that happen outside the workplace may make harassment inside a workplace more likely or perceived as more acceptable” Think the increase prevalence of coarse language in today’s music, Rap vs. Sinatra?
  5. Workforces with Many Young Workers– The report says “Workplaces with many teenagers and young adults may raise the risk for harassment”. The reason stated is they just don’t know the rules.
  6. Workplaces with “High Value” Employees- Management is afraid to upset the “rainmaker” of the organization and subsequently he is allowed to get away with things. I used “he” specifically since that is in my view much more likely.
  7. Workplaces with Significant Power Disparities– The report says “significant power disparities can be a risk factor” and they give examples of executives with administrative groups and the military. Think G.I. Jane.
  8. Workplaces that Rely on Customer Service or Client Satisfaction– The report says “in order to ensure customer happiness, management may, consciously or subconsciously, tolerate harassing behavior rather than intervene on the workers’ behalf.” Think Hooters.
  9. Workplaces Where Work is Monotonous or Consists of Low-Intensity Tasks- If the job is boring workers will occupy themselves with harassing each other. According to the report “harassing or bullying behavior may become a way to vent frustration or avoid boredom.”
  10. Isolated Workspaces– Jobs that are done where there is little likelihood of being observed provide opportunities for harassment. Think hotel housekeeping staff.
  11. Workplace Cultures that Tolerate or Encourage Alcohol Consumption– As we all know alcohol reduces inhibitions for many, many people. Proof of this is found at SHRM conferences after hours. If happens with this group think what may happen in a business filled with young employees who have access to the nice perk of a beer tap in the lunchroom.
  12. Decentralized Workplaces-According to the report “In such workplaces, some managers may feel (or may actually be) unaccountable for their behavior and may act outside the bounds of workplace rules. Others may simply be unaware of how to address workplace harassment issues, or for a variety of reasons may choose not to ‘call headquarters’ for direction” New managers may not want to report harassment because they think it will reflect badly on their leadership capabilities.

What is the common denominator?

What is the common denominator in most, if not all, of these situations? Younger employees! Either lower level, newly minted or recently promoted workers are typically found in each of these situations. So the answer to my question in the title, Are Millennials responsible for the increase in harassment claims?, is “Yes.” However, there is another level of responsibility. The Baby Boomer and Gen X managers who have reared these Millennial employees have done a poor job of training them. So if you are wondering why harassment is on the rise, just look in the mirror and that advice fits all age categories.

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