What do you expect from your workplace? Professionalism, respect, and dignity!

Despite these ideals, the number of workplace harassment cases is increasing, creating a toxic work culture that negatively affects productivity and employee’s well-being.

According to Statistics Canada, close to half of women and approximately three in 10 men across Canada have disclosed encountering harassment or sexual assault within their workplace.

Considering these statistics, identifying the signs of workplace harassment becomes essential as it can help implement harassment preventive strategies and create a safer workplace. 

Ignoring or downplaying these signs creates a harmful culture and exposes the organization to significant legal and reputational risks.

By creating an environment where signs of harassment are recognized and addressed early, organizations can establish a culture of trust and support. Hence, employees feel empowered to speak up and seek assistance without fear of retaliation.

This blog explores various signs of workplace harassment, ranging from subtle behaviors to overt actions, and discusses the importance of recognizing these signs early. 

3 Common Signs of Harassment

Workplace harassment can manifest in various ways, often subtly at first. These are the classification of harassment signs: 

  1. Behavioral changes

  2. Physical symptoms

  3. Emotional distress

Recognizing these signs early and types of harassment is crucial for fostering a healthy work environment. Let’s explore each of these symptom types in detail. 

1. Behavioral Changes


Employees may express notable shifts in behavior when experiencing harassment. These changes can range from becoming withdrawn or unusually quiet to displaying signs of distress, such as increased irritability or nervousness.

1. Unexplained Anxiety or Fear

Employees experiencing workplace harassment may express unexplained feelings of anxiety or fear while at work. These emotions can cause a general sense of unease, nervousness, or apprehension without an identifiable cause. 

Victims of harassment may feel constantly on edge or threatened, leading to heightened stress levels and difficulty concentrating on tasks.

2. Avoidance of Certain Individuals or Places

Individuals subjected to harassment may actively avoid interacting with specific colleagues or certain workplace areas where they feel vulnerable or unsafe. This avoidance behavior serves as a coping mechanism to minimize exposure to potential harassment triggers. 

Employees may alter their routines or take longer routes to avoid encountering individuals or situations that make them uncomfortable.

3. Decreased Productivity or Engagement

Harassment can significantly impact employees' ability to focus and perform their duties effectively. 

Victims can experience decreased motivation, energy, or enthusiasm for their work as a result of the emotional toll of harassment. This can lead to decreased productivity, missed deadlines, or a lack of interest in work-related activities or discussions.

4. Frequent Absences or Tardiness

Employees facing harassment may resort to taking frequent absences or arriving late to work to avoid uncomfortable workplace interactions. 

These absences may be physical, such as calling in sick more often than usual, or emotional, with individuals needing time away from the workplace to cope with the stress and anxiety caused by harassment.

5. Overly Apologetic Behavior

Harassment victims exhibit excessively apologetic behavior, constantly seeking to placate or appease others, even when not at fault. 

This behavior often stems from a desire to avoid conflict or further harassment. It can lead to a pattern of self-blame and diminished self-confidence.

6. Defensive Reactions to Feedback

Individuals facing harassment may react defensively to feedback or constructive criticism, perceiving it as further harassment rather than genuine guidance for improvement. 

This defensive behavior can affect professional growth and collaboration within the workplace, as employees may resist receiving feedback or participating in performance evaluations.

7. Changes in Work Habits or Performance

Harassment can disrupt an employee's usual work habits and performance. This leads to decreased quality or quantity of work, consistency in attendance or punctuality, or a reluctance to take on new tasks or responsibilities. 

Changes in work habits or performance can serve as red flags indicating potential harassment and should be addressed promptly by employers.

2. Physical Symptoms


Physical symptoms resulting from workplace harassment are a direct response to the stress and anxiety experienced by individuals. 

These symptoms can affect various aspects of an individual's health and well-being.

1. Sleep Disturbances

Harassment victims may experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to heightened stress levels. 

Sleep disturbances can include insomnia, frequent waking during the night, or restless sleep, leading to fatigue and decreased cognitive function during waking hours.

2. Headaches or Migraines

Chronic stress resulting from harassment can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of headaches or migraines. 

Individuals may experience tension headaches, characterized by dull, persistent aches or migraines, often involving intense throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

3. Digestive Issues

Stress and anxiety associated with harassment can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. 

These digestive issues can be distressing and may interfere with an individual's ability to focus and perform their job duties.

4. Weight Fluctuations

Weight changes, whether gain or loss, can result from stress-related eating habits or alterations in metabolism due to chronic stress. 

Harassment victims may experience fluctuations in appetite, leading to unhealthy eating patterns and potential weight changes over time.

5. Fatigue or Low Energy Levels

Persistent stress and anxiety can drain an individual's energy reserves, leading to feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and overall low energy levels. 

Victims of harassment may struggle to maintain their usual level of alertness and productivity throughout the workday, impacting their ability to perform effectively.

6. Increased Blood Pressure

Chronic stress resulting from harassment can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels over time. 

Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to hypertension and increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems if left unaddressed.

7. Muscular Tension or Pain

Stress-induced muscular tension can result in stiffness, soreness, or localized muscle pain, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and back areas. 

In severe cases, individuals may experience muscle spasms or knots, contributing to discomfort and reduced mobility.

Recognizing these physical symptoms in employees is essential for understanding the potential impact of harassment on their overall health and well-being. 

Employers should prioritize creating a supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns and accessing resources for managing stress and addressing harassment.

3. Emotional Distress


Emotional distress resulting from workplace harassment can significantly impact an individual's mental well-being and overall quality of life. 

Recognizing the signs of emotional distress is crucial for providing appropriate support and intervention to affected employees.

1. Signs of Depression

Depression is a typical emotional response to harassment and can manifest in various ways, including persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. Individuals may experience changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. 

Depression can affect both work performance and personal relationships if left unaddressed.

2. Low Self-Esteem

Harassment can erode an individual's self-esteem and self-worth over time. Victims may internalize negative messages or criticism received from the perpetrator, leading to feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, or self-doubt. 

Low self-esteem can undermine confidence and hinder an individual's ability to assert themselves in the workplace.

3. Increased Irritability or Anger

Chronic stress resulting from harassment can heighten emotional reactivity, leading to increased irritability, frustration, or anger. Individuals may have a shorter fuse than usual and react more strongly to minor inconveniences or conflicts. 

Unchecked anger can strain interpersonal relationships and escalate conflicts in the workplace.

4. Emotional Withdrawal

Feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained by harassment can prompt individuals to withdraw from social interactions and disengage from their surroundings. 

Emotional withdrawal may involve isolating oneself from colleagues, avoiding social events, or becoming emotionally distant in conversations. This behavior can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

5. Tearfulness or Crying Spells

Emotional distress caused by harassment can manifest in episodes of tearfulness or crying spells, particularly in response to triggers such as confrontations, criticism, or reminders of the harassment. 

Crying can serve as a release valve for pent-up emotions but may also be accompanied by feelings of embarrassment or shame.

6. Difficulty Concentrating

Persistent worry, anxiety, or rumination related to harassment can interfere with an individual's ability to concentrate and focus on tasks. 

Difficulty concentrating may manifest as forgetfulness, distractibility, or an inability to complete tasks efficiently. This cognitive impairment can impact work performance and productivity.

7. Loss of Interest in Hobbies or Activities

Harassment can drain individuals' energy and enthusiasm for activities they once enjoyed. Victims may lose interest in hobbies, socializing with friends, or participating in leisure activities outside work. 

Losing interest in previously pleasurable activities can contribute to emptiness and dissatisfaction with life.

Recognizing these signs of emotional distress in employees is essential for providing appropriate support and resources to address their mental health needs. 

Creating a workplace culture that promotes open communication, empathy, and psychological safety can help mitigate the harmful effects of harassment and promote employee well-being.

Final Words

Recognizing the signs of workplace harassment is essential for fostering a healthy and inclusive work environment where all employees feel respected, valued, and safe. 

From subtle behavioral changes to physical and emotional symptoms, the signs of harassment can vary widely, but their impact on individuals' well-being and productivity is intense.

By understanding and identifying these signs early on, organizations can proactively address harassment, prevent further escalation, and support those affected. 

Employers must prioritize creating a culture of accountability, where harassment is not tolerated, and victims feel empowered to speak up without fear of retaliation.

Additionally, employers must proactively educate employees about their rights and responsibilities, provide outlets for reporting harassment, and ensure that investigations are conducted promptly and impartially.

Canada Safety Training offers comprehensive Workplace Harassment Awareness Training that can help employees identify the signs of workplace harassment and report it promptly. 

By working together to recognize the signs, address root causes, and promote a culture of respect and dignity, we can create safer and more equitable workplaces for everyone.