A new study from Denmark revealed that employees who experience Sexual Harassment in their workplaces are more likely to develop symptoms of depression compared to employees not exposed to sexual harassment.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, showed that the negative effects of sexual harassment on mental health were apparent regardless of the whether the perpetrator was a colleague or a client.

Unwanted sexual advances by colleagues more harmful than those of clients

For the study, the researchers analyzed the combined data from the Work Environment and Health in Denmark (WEHD) cohort study and the Work Environment Activities in Danish Workplaces Study (WEADW).

Both studies include self-reported information on working conditions and the health of 7,603 employees and supervisors across different occupational groups, including care work, education, service, and industrial work.

Out of the respondents, 2.4 percent reported being exposed to sexual harassment by clients and customers, while 1 percent reported being sexually harassed by their colleagues. Among the occupational groups, women in care work were more often exposed to unwanted sexual advances by their clients or customers.

The researchers used the so-called Major depression Inventory (MDI) to estimate the severity of their symptoms. Interestingly, employees who were harassed by their colleagues, supervisors, or subordinates had the highest MDI score.

Participants sexually harassed by clients and customers scored 2.05 points higher than those who were not exposed to sexual harassment, while employees harassed by their colleagues scored 2.45 points higher compared to those who had experienced harassment by clients and customers.

Sexual harassment should not be considered as 'part of the job'

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, as well as unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

The researchers noted that dealing with harassment perpetrated by clients or customers may be viewed by some as part of the job, especially in occupations like care work and social work.

However, the result of the study clearly showed that exposure to harassment that is sexual in nature can have negative implications on mental health. Furthermore, the researchers recommend classifying sexual harassment by clients and unwelcome sexual advances by colleagues as two distinct types of harassment.