Non-Verbal Harassment in the Workplace

Non-Verbal Harassment in the Workplace

The Facts

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Non-verbal harassment in the workplace is a common phenomenon in our daily life. It is a type of abuse undertaken through body language instead of communication that has equally harmful effects. The consequences can include mental and physical illness. It can also hamper one's career. It is important to note that this type of harassment is illegal and that there is machinery in place to prevent harassment and punish abusers.

What is Non-Verbal Harassment? 

Non-verbal harassment refers to instances of harassment wherein non-verbal communication is used as a medium of harassment. In the workplace or our daily life, one can face several types of harassment. Our body language and actions can lead to harassment. Some common examples of non-verbal harassment include staring or gawking, sending unsolicited pictures, and unwanted physical touch. 

Non-verbal harassment is a very prevalent form of harassment. One of the biggest concerns is the subtle nature of non-verbal harassment. It can usually go unnoticed. This, in turn, leads to further non-verbal harassment and continues a vicious cycle.

Types of Non-Verbal Harassment

Given below are a few types of non-verbal harassment:

  • Posting images without consent: Posting an individual's pictures without their consent is a form of non-verbal harassment. This is applicable both in the workplace as well as in romantic relationships. It must be noted that the picture need not be personal. Posting any pictures without prior consent would be considered non-verbal harassment.
  • Sending unsolicited pictures: In the day and age of social media, everyone is connected and has access, ability, and freedom to send pictures to one another. However, sending unsolicited pictures of a promiscuous nature is non-verbal harassment. It is important to understand that while we have the right to send pictures, we do not have the right to send unsolicited promiscuous pictures. 
  • Gawking or staring: Any form of uncomfortable leering, staring, or gawking is non-verbal harassment. 
  • Unwelcome gifts: Receiving gifts that you do not want or make you uncomfortable is non-verbal harassment. This can also include receiving favors or help that makes you uncomfortable. 
  • Inappropriate physical touch: Any form of inappropriate physical touch is a part of nonverbal harassment. This can include putting a hand on the shoulder, grazing something while walking, standing uncomfortably close, and any other touch that makes the person uncomfortable.
  • Facial gestures: Making lewd faces, whistling, and catcalling is also a form of non-verbal harassment. 
  • Inappropriate hand gestures: Suggestive hand gestures that make the other person feel embarrassed are non-verbal harassment. 
  • Posting personal messages or pictures on public forums: Displaying a person's private messages or photos on a public forum is non-verbal harassment. This can include posting directly on public platforms or even circulating these images and messages through a community of people.  
  • Cyber stalking: This is a new-age form of non-verbal harassment where one may send messages over an online platform. It can also include tracking locations over mobile phones and using this data to stalk an individual in real life.

Non-Verbal Harassment in the Workplace

One of the most common avenues for non-verbal harassment is in the workplace. This non-verbal harassment is harmful both to the employer and employee. It can lead to several negative consequences such as:

  • A hostile work environment
  • Reduced productivity and profits 
  • Decrease in productivity  
  • Increase in absenteeism 
  • Loss of morale 
  • Poor employee and subordinate relations 
  • Lack of trust in managers
  • Increase in employee turnover
  • Damage to the reputation of the employee
  • Damage to image or reputation of the company 
  • Bad publicity
  • Costly litigation cost
  • Problems in hiring new people

Impact of Non-Verbal Harassment 

The effects and impact of non-verbal harassment are multifold. It can be both psychological and physical in nature. The consequences of non-verbal harassment differ and are influenced by the type of abuse and the time period.

Reactions to Non-Verbal Harassment 

Here are some of the most common immediate responses to non-verbal harassment:

  • Denial 
  • Fear of rejection from the society 
  • Avoiding the abuser
  • A lack of confidence
  • Blaming oneself for abuse
  • A dip in self-esteem 
  • Fear of being harassed again
  • Loss of morale 
  • Feeling of humiliation 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Frustration 

Common Physical Impact of Non-Verbal Harassment 

  • Lack of sleep or insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stomach pain, headaches, and other body pain 
  • Indigestion 
  • Weight gain 
  • Migraine 

Common Psychological Impacts of Non-Verbal Abuse

  • Anxiety 
  • Panic Attacks
  • Depression
  • Suicidal and self-harm tendencies
  • PTSD 
  • Eating and Sleeping disorders.
  • Anger Issues
  • Loss of memory 
  • Traumatic reaction to future triggers. 

How to Seek Help for Non-Verbal Harassment 

There are several ways to seek help against non-verbal harassment. A victim may seek out help from any of the following options depending on the circumstances.

  • Inform the police: A victim can contact the police, and the police will investigate and take action accordingly.
  • Take Legal Action: A victim can also choose to take legal action against a harasser. This may include civil suits such as suing the individual or even criminal action in consortium with the police.
  • File a complaint through the workplace complaint resolution system: Workplaces now have optimum machinery in place to battle harassment. This included a POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Committee and hearing committees for non-sexual harassment. An individual affected in the workplace can choose to take action through this machinery.

How to Cope with Non-Verbal Harassment

As seen above, non-verbal harassment can have several serious and long-lasting negative consequences. As a victim, time is one of the most important things to cope with non-verbal harassment. The individual can also use the following tips to cope with non-verbal harassment. 

  • Seek out professional help: A therapist is needed to resolve issues arising out of harassment, such as anxiety and depression. There is no shame in seeking out professional help. We can encourage victims to seek out professional help by making it accessible.
  • Distance yourself from your abuser: This may be hard to do initially. But victims should try and distance themselves from their abuser. This can immediately relieve the stress of the victim. 
  • Join a community of Survivors: Meeting other survivors of abuse can offer a source of hope and comfort to victims. Several communities meet weekly or monthly to share their stories and comfort each other. 

Tackling Workplace Nonverbal Harassment 

It is obvious that there is a need for tackling workplace harassment due to the numerous ill effects of the same. A workplace can employ a threefold system to tackle this nonverbal harassment.

  1. Creating a complaint mechanism: The first step would be to create a comprehensive complaint redressal system that can resolve any complaints filed by employees. Ideally, this mechanism should be anonymous and consist of a panel to give the accused a fair chance to present their side.
  2. Conduct anti-harassment training: Workshops that train employees to understand what constitutes nonverbal harassment are vital. These workshops define instances of harassment and also educate employees about the complaint redressal mechanism.
  3. Establish workplace boundaries: There are specific protocols that define employees' interactions that are necessary to curb workplace harassment. These protocols can regulate interactions that result in nonverbal harassment. 

The bottom line

In conclusion, non-verbal harassment has wide and long-lasting impacts. Therefore, it is important to recognize this abuse and combat it accordingly. Workplaces are working hard to create an environment that encourages victims of non-verbal harassment to come forward and speak out. Therefore, victims of non-verbal harassment now have several channels to use to complain and share their stories.

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